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Carl E. Prince 


Mollie Keller 

The U.S. Customs Service 

A Bicentennial History 


Department of the Treasury 

U.S. Customs Service 
Washington, D.C. 

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data 

Prince, Carl E. 

The U.S. Customs Service: a bicentennial history/Carl E. 
Prince and Mollie Keller. 

p. cm. 

Includes index. 

1. U.S. Customs Service— History. I. Keller, Mollie. 
II. Title. 

HJ6622.A6 1989 

353.0072'46'09— dc20 89-600730 

ISBN 0-9622904-0-8 


When we began the research for this book, the sources appeared 
daunting: the customs records in the National Archives alone 
measured 8,000 linear feet. There are more customs records among 
the Treasury Department's papers and other collections. Thousands 
more linear feet are located at the regional federal records centers 
across the United States. Every major research library houses 
collections rich in customs history as well, and innumerable histo- 
rians for nearly 200 years have written about the Customs Service 
or touched on it in their extended studies. 

Knowing that we could not possibly exhaust existing primary 
sources in one year of research (or 20), we chose a policy of 
sampling the richest primary sources, many of them obscure and 
little used because they lie buried amid poorly catalogued or 
uncatalogued collections. We hoped by this means to provide a 
small path for others to follow; customs records, like the 
Customs Service itself, are rich not only in American economic 
and political history, but social and cultural history as well. This 
study is intended to reflect that variety. 

We also realized that a one-volume study could at best 
provide only a superficial chronicling of Customs' myriad 
involvement in the nation's history, so we chose to discuss in 
some depth representative topics — pressure points like the Amer- 
ican Revolution, the embargo era, the nullification controversy, 
the Civil War, Prohibition, and drug enforcement. Rather than 
survey complex customs oversight of immigration in the 19th 
century, we opted to deal with the enforcement of the Chinese 
Exclusion Act of 1882 as an example in depth. 

It is axiomatic that the function of the Customs Service from 

The U.S. Customs Service 

its inception has been to defend the revenue of the nation. It has 
achieved that task as well as circumstances have allowed. Until 
the overworked Jacksonian era there was little corruption and a 
high degree of professionalism; that pride was egregiously 
assaulted from outside for the next three-quarters of a century. 
About 1900, civil service reform finally took hold, and the 
Customs Service thereafter returned to its professional origins. It 
has successfully met its obligation to "protect, secure, and 
defend the revenue" since then. From its establishment, the 
Customs Service has also been asked to do more than enforce 
tariff regulations and collect duties. It was the nation's first 
public health service, its first immigration service, and its first 
coast guard. 

Customs was also from its earliest moments a public agency 
exploited by the American political party system. Opened up by 
successive administrations to party patronage, the Customs 
Service remained thoroughly politicized for over a century. That 
it was able to retain its professionalism stands as a remarkable 
tribute to dedicated individuals who either fought the system 
from within, or more usually, manipulated it subtly to maximize 
honest achievement of the service's mission. And it did so even as 
it was handed the dirtiest jobs. Customs, as noted earlier, was at 
the forefront of official presence before the American Revolu- 
tion, and thus bore the brunt of popular American disfavor. 
During the embargo and nullification crises, Presidents Jeffer- 
son and Jackson asked the Customs Service to enforce badly 
drawn revenue laws. Customs was virtually the only government 
screening agency during the 19th-century years of massive 
immigration, always with grossly inadequate resources. It was 
asked to enforce morality during Prohibition. Now it holds a 
significant share of the responsibility for preventing drug traf- 
ficking, as usual without adequate resources. 

Throughout America's history, therefore, the Customs Serv- 
ice has remained close to the center of the action. Few will 
dispute its claim, as the most enduring government agency, that 
it has always tried to do the best it could with what it had, and 


for the most part successfully, bad laws, bad politics, and public 
friction notwithstanding. 

* * * 

It is a pleasure to thank the large number of professionals in 
the Customs Service who went out of their way to make our 
efforts easier. They all share a deep awareness of Customs' rich 
history, which they translated into commitment to this study. 

This group includes Michael Lane, Deputy Commissioner; 
D. Lynn Gordon, Assistant Commissioner for Commercial 
Operations; Stephen A. Dougherty, Executive Assistant to the 
Commissioner; William F. Riley, Comptroller; Theodore Kasna 
and Linda Angellata in the Contracts office; Mieko Kosoba- 
yashi, former Secretary to the Commissioner; and Ernest Cham- 
bre, the Conservator of Customs. Many members of the library 
and executive staffs and several regional commissioners were also 

Patricia Coss, Editor of Customs Today, saw this volume 
through press, adeptly adhering to the publication schedule, 
managing proofs, and selecting illustrations. She was both 
efficient and cheerful throughout a complex process. 

A special thank you to Stuart Seidel, the Customs Historian 
and the Director of the Regulatory Procedures and Penalties 
Division, whose study of Customs during World War I we drew 
on so heavily. Always an astute observer of the Customs Service, 
we prevailed on him to write the Epilogue to this volume. 

Michael N. Ingrisano, Jr., the Director of the Information 
Services Division, has been involved in this history from its 
inception. He knows more about the agency's past than any 
other person we know, and he freely allowed the authors to tap 
that knowledge repeatedly. Ingrisano read every chapter in draft 
and saved us from any number of errors. We depended as well on 
his own published studies of specialized aspects of customs 
history, as well as his fine Biographical Directory of the Customs 
Service. His sense of humor and warmth made it a pleasure to 
work with him. 

We first came to know Commissioner William von Raab 


The U.S. Customs Service 

when he came to New York University as Vice President in the 
early 1970's. The Commissioner has an abiding passion for 
history, and he saw well in advance of the Customs Service's 
bicentennial anniversary that time would be required to produce 
a deep history of Customs. His foresight and interest in the 
project made it possible. 

Many historians and archivists in the National Archives and 
the regional Federal Records Centers have helped us in our 
research. In particular we want to acknowledge the support of 
Frank Burke, now of the University of Maryland and formerly 
the Acting Archivist of the United States. We also want to single 
out for mention Kathleen O'Connor, Staff Archivist at the 
Federal Records Center at San Bruno, California, who spent 
hours digging out obscure collections touching on the enforce- 
ment of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. 

Several colleagues at New York University have facilitated our 
efforts. Chancellor L. Jay Oliva helped to secure the grant that 
underwrote this study. Dean of Administration Ann Burton 
helped establish the project in the College of Arts and Sciences. 
Lisa Tate and Martha Dunne administered the grant through the 
university's Office of Sponsored Programs. Lynn Anderson 
edited portions of the first seven chapters. Claire Potter coped 
valiantly with the typing of the manuscript and its often complex 
footnotes. Ken Silverman in the English Department helped 
identify cultural figures in the Customs Service and critically 
reviewed that portion of chapter four dealing with Nathaniel 


Mollie Keller 



By William von Raab 
Commissioner of Customs 

Few Americans realize that British customs practices drove 
the colonists into the American Revolution. Ironically, however, 
the powder that destroyed English rule soon became the fuel that 
launched a new country. 

Prior to the French and Indian War, Great Britain and its 
colonies were unified, and the colonies were dependent upon 
their motherland. Trouble began after the war, however, when 
Parliament realized that revenue was needed to cover its war 
debts. Soon thereafter, the seeds for the birth of our nation were 
sown at the Stamp Act Congress in 1765. The English then 
blundered by responding with the Townshend and Coercive Acts. 
Customs duties thus became the catalyst that set in motion the 
events that destroyed English rule in the colonies. 

Customs officers have been actors in some of the most 
important events of early American history. The development of 
Customs has not only been a major factor in shaping our 
nation, but in many ways the story of U.S. Customs is an 
accurate reflection of the development of our nation and its 

In New York in April 1789, immediately after the first House 
of Representatives had been sworn in, James Madison of 
Virginia rose from his seat to introduce: 

... a subject that requires our first attention and 
united exertions. The deficiency in our Treasury has 
been too notorious to make it necessary for me to 

The U.S. Customs Service 

animadvert upon that subject. Let us content ourselves 
with endeavoring to remedy the evil. To do this, a 
national revenue must be obtained, but the system must 
be a one that, while it secures the object of revenue, it 
shall not be oppressive to our constituents. Happy it is 
for us that such a system is within our power; for I 
apprehend that both these objects may be obtained 
from an impost on articles imported into the United 

By Madison's wisdom and tenacity, the Customs Service was 
created, then signed into existence by President Washington on 
July 31, 1789. Those very customs duties which had caused the 
rift between Great Britain and its colonies now served as the 
foundation for the new nation. 

Born out of our new nation's need for revenue, the U.S. 
Customs Service diligently pursued its collection duties and 
secured the funds necessary to keep the infant ship of state 
afloat. Soon our responsibilities would go far beyond revenue. 
Indeed, in the early years, Customs officers were the eyes, ears 
and arms of the federal government. This position came by 
default to the first fully formed national agency, often the 
solitary federal presence in the burgeoning ports of the young 
country. In the first decades of America's lively democratic 
experiment, Customs officers were, in effect, its field scientists. 
By trial and error, they tested the federal programs designed to 
forge a strong union from the slowly coalescing states. 

In fact, this young nation might not have survived many 
critical periods, might not have prospered so readily, without the 
work of the U.S. Customs Service. For not only was Customs 
virtually the sole source of federal revenue in the nation's 
formative years — by the mid-1800's accounting for nearly 95 
percent of all receipts — but it was the Customs Service that built 
America's lighthouses, directed its revenue cutters, standardized 
its weights and measures, paid its veterans salaries, managed its 
marine hospitals, and single-handedly controlled the flow of 



people and products through its ports. Put simply, Customs 
helped shape the life of young America. 

Although much has changed since those early days, Customs 
has remained one of the linchpins of our national security and 
economy. International trade and travel have reached heights 
inconceivable a century ago. Keeping pace with the complexity 
of modern America has presented the Customs Service with 
challenges our founders could never have foreseen. Events in our 
nation's development have molded Customs and Customs, in 
turn, has helped shape those events. 

Commercial fraud, pornography, drug smuggling are not 
peculiar to our own age — they are the dark side of America and 
all men, stretching back generations. It is once again the 
Customs Service which the nation has called to help quell these 
destructive forces. We will respond with the same alacrity and 
dedication that was and continues to be the character of 
Customs — standing ready to serve the nation, ready to accept 
any challenge, in time of peace or in time of war, to protect 
America's independence. 

We of the Customs Service are proud of our two centuries of 
service to America. In commissioning this book, I hoped to 
make available to all Americans a work which would enable 
them to understand and appreciate the significant role Customs 
has played in our nation's history. More important, however, is to 
give credit to all the men and women of the U.S. Customs Service 
for their contributions and sacrifices as individuals and as 
members of a superb organization that has played a critical role 
in protecting our independence for 200 years. 



by Sir Angus Fraser, K.C.B., T.D. 

Chairman of the Board of H.M. Customs & Excise 


Any commissioner of the British Board of Customs & Excise 
is bound to take a particular interest in the history of the U.S. 
Customs Service and to feel a special bond with its present-day 
practitioners. Our two services have an eventful and sometimes 
overlapping past. In the case of Her Majesty's Customs & 
Excise, the chronicle extends from the Dark Ages to the age of 
the computer and, along that line of evolution, takes in very 
directly the early history of Customs in the Americas. There are 
even some who contend that the name America itself was 
derived, in gratitude, from the name of Customs Collector 
Richard A'Meryke, who paid a subsidy out of the Bristol 
Customs duties to John Cabot when he was setting out on the 
voyage that led to the discovery of the American mainland. 

Today, when the British Commissioners of Customs & Excise 
meet in their boardroom, their deliberations are still illuminated by 
the image of Charles II, in the form of a 17th-century stained-glass 
portrait. The modern history of both the Customs and the Excise in 
England starts with him; for he it was who placed revenues firmly 
under the control of his own commissioners, appointed by royal 
letters patent (a constitutional practice that survives to the present 
day). It was also in Charles' reign that a British act of Parliament 
imposed the first plantation duties on goods shipped within Amer- 
ica. From Britain came a group of collectors, comptrollers, and 
surveyors, forming a service that was, in essence, very much the 


The U.S. Customs Service 

same as the one operating in England under the recently appointed 

The officers in America were designated under Treasury 
warrants and formed a common establishment with the British 
customs. Gradually, however, the service became more specifi- 
cally American. In 1683 the first surveyor general was appointed 
for the American colonies; and, under their delegated powers, 
the surveyors general added to customs numbers by employing 
"port waiters" and "riding officers," often locally engaged. 
Nonetheless, the seat of power was still very much in England. 
Colonial merchants who wanted to make representations on 
revenue matters had perforce to address themselves to London, 
where a commissioner sat on the bench in the Long Room of the 
Custom House every day to hear complaints and petitions. 

If complaints from across the Atlantic often fell on deaf ears, 
the modern administrator can feel no surprise, given the predict- 
able consequences of such practices as splitting the value of 
seizures three ways, among Crown, governor, and customs 
officer, backed up by extensive powers of search and enforce- 
ment. Eventually the problem of controlling the American 
colonies, much expanded by the new territories that passed to 
Britain after the wars in Canada, proved almost impossible for 
the plantation department in London. The Board of Customs, 
like the Board of Excise, was already finding that it could 
scarcely cope with the legitimate side of its business in Britain, 
let alone the vast illicit smuggling trade that flourished, violently 
and bloodily, with the connivance of all walks of English society. 

I imagine that the commissioners were glad to lend their 
support to the experiment in colonial administration which, in 
1767, established a resident American Board of Customs in 
Boston, Massachusetts, with powers comparable to those of the 
English Board. Administratively, such decentralization had a 
good deal to be said for it, in terms of assuring justice both to 
merchants and to customs officers. That consideration weighed 
little with disaffected colonists, who saw only too clearly that the 
primary object was to secure more effectively the imposts, old 


and new, that they were expected to pay. What was at stake 
transcended taxation and had become the fundamental issue of 
whether the undoubted legislative sovereignty of the British 
Parliament also extended to its colonies. 

The American Board of Customs was ill-starred and short- 
lived. Its prospect of survival had hardly been strengthened by 
the inclusion of the New England-born Charles Paxton among 
the commissioners and the fateful decision to locate the head- 
quarters in fractious Boston, rather than Philadelphia (as orig- 
inally contemplated by the British commissioners) or New York, 
a decision that swiftly led to the introduction of troops and 
armed vessels into Boston to sustain Crown authority. Paxton 
had aroused monumental unpopularity in the old service when, 
as "Surveyor and Searcher for the Port of Boston," he had 
specialized in seizing items of illicit trade to the substantial 
benefit of his own pocket. On the formation of the American 
Board, the friendly connection that he had cultivated with 
Charles Townshend, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, 
won him a spectacular promotion, equivalent to a single leap 
from major to major general. He was no more popular as a 
commissioner, and on one occasion he narrowly escaped tarring 
and feathering by taking to the back streets of Boston dressed in 
female clothing. 

The commissioners fled the country for good in 1776, 
although their patent was not revoked until 1783, when the ports 
remaining in the British colonies after the Revolution reverted to 
the jurisdiction of the customhouse in London. One of the 
express objectives in setting up an American board had been to 
conciliate the American public. In that, the Board's failure was 
conspicuous: indeed it had served to provide one of the precip- 
itating causes of the Revolution. 

The history of the U.S. Customs starts, then, with an 
obituary notice of prerogative. From that point on, in Britain as 
in the United States, those persons who were once known as the 
King's "customers" have gradually become the servants of the 
Nation. Formerly the bugbear of the public, the revenue official 


The U.S. Customs Service 

becomes in the end the public's provider and protector, seeking 
to collect the national dues with as little trouble to the payers as 
possible and to protect society against some of the scourges 
— drugs among others — that plague the modern world. In 
pursuing these common tasks, the British Customs have long 
benefited from a fruitful collaboration with the U.S. Customs 
Service and in so doing have formed a deep respect for the 
latter's dedication and professionalism. 

Ours is a continuing story. Over the years, every part of our 
two services has had to respond to constantly changing de- 
mands. Through all the changes, however, the essentials remain, 
and this bicentennial publication affords a welcome opportunity 
to look at the welter of influences that have come together to 
fashion one of the great American departments of state. 



I. Customs and the Coming of the American Revolution, 

1763-1776 1 

II. Origins of the U.S. Customs Service, 1783-1807 35 

III. Customs and National Policy: Embargo and 

Nullification, 1807-1833 69 

IV. Customs in the Age of Jackson, 1825-1850 95 

V. Customs and the Civil War: Uncertainty and Disruption, 

1850-1865 119 

VI. Customs in the Gilded Age: Corruption and Reform, 

1865-1900 143 

VII. Customs and Immigration: Enforcing the Chinese 

Exclusion Act, 1882-1926 171 

VIII. Customs and Alcohol 195 
IX. Customs and the War on Drugs 219 

X. Customs and Pornography 251 

XI. Customs in War and Peace 275 

Epilogue 299 

Appendix I: Commissioners of Customs 305 

Appendix II: Ports of Entry 307 

Index 311 



Early America Following page 76 

Commission, Deputy Customs Collector, New England 

Yorktown customhouse 

Commission for Boston customs officer 

Officers in H.M Customs in America 

The Brig Dartmouth 

Tarring and feathering 

Receipts of the National Government 


Second Act of Congress 

Thomas Jefferson 

James Madison 

Otho Williams 

Alexander Hamilton 

Collector's commission 

Early New York entry 

Benjamin Lincoln 

19th Century Following page 158 

Treasury seals 
Embargo cartoon 
Vessel registration 
Andrew Jackson 
Collector cartoons 
New York customhouse 
Collector cartoon 
Political guillotine 
Nathaniel Hawthorne 
Salem customhouse 
Chinese cartoon 
Prohibition cartoon 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Chester Alan Arthur 

Deming customhouse 

Galveston customhouse 

Theodore Roosevelt 

Customs officers at Windsor Ferry 

Holdup cartoon 

20th Century Following page 238 

Uniform variations 

Caricature by Customs employee 

Liquor seizure in the Southwest 

Examination for mounted inspector 

Tent customhouse 

Prohibition Customs officers 

Texas customhouse 

Intelligence book 


John E Kennedy International Airport 

Astronauts' declaration 

French Connection 

Patrol helicopter 


Detector dog 

P-3 aircraft 

Operation Saber 

Tampa cocaine seizure 

Blue Thunder vessel 


Chapter I 


The year 1767 is the real date of the establishment of the 
Customs Service in this country. The Townshend Acts of that 
year included a little noticed provision creating an American 
Board of Customs Commissioners to be assigned to Boston and 
charged with enforcing the harsh new regulations incorporated in 
the acts. Coming hard on the repeal of the detested Stamp Act, 
the Townshend duties exacerbated the tensions already evident in 
the colonies. The new commissioners could hardly be said to be 
welcome in Boston; in fact, the Board was doomed to failure 
even before it arrived in America. 

From the British point of view the Townshend Acts, incor- 
porating both new duties and a new try at enforcing old ones, 
proved to be a disaster. The institution of a highly visible 
American Board of Customs turned out to be a major imperial 
provocation. The appearance of the King's broad arrow on 
seized goods was to colonial merchants and waterfront laborers 
what the proverbial red flag is to the bull. As we shall see, the 
new customs establishment resulted in escalating confrontation 
between colonies and mother country; eventually, the customs 
conflict emerged as a cause of the American Revolution. Before 
turning to that story, however, it is important to examine briefly 
the British customs establishment in colonial America before 


The U.S. Customs Service 
The English Customs Service and the American Colonies 

Throughout the American colonial era, jurisdictional dis- 
putes within the English bureaucracy made effective control of 
customs in the American plantations, as the colonies were called, 
virtually impossible. The problem of control was aggravated by 
the pervasive and casual corruption that was the way of doing 
customs business in England. The relationships among different 
elements of the British Treasury is complex and not really 
relevant here; suffice it to say that these relationships often dated 
back to medieval times and had become anachronistic in the 
wake of the development of a far-flung British empire. The 
British customs system was caught up in the bureaucracy, the 
corruption, and the inadequacy evident everywhere in the ad- 
ministration of British government. 

The British customs service was administered by an English 
Board of Customs Commissioners, supposedly working closely 
with the Board of Trade at Whitehall, the center of government 
in London. That close relationship was honored more in the 
breach than in the observance. The two boards rarely met 
together to align policies, interacting instead through their 
respective secretaries. At a time of rapid colonial growth, this 
lack of communication proved fatal to effective control over 
American colonial trade. No single government agency really 
oversaw that burgeoning commerce. This led to a prolonged 
period of what historians refer to as "salutary neglect," an 
absence of regulation that allowed American economic growth 
to occur virtually unimpeded during the 17th and 18th centuries. 
There was an English customs cadre in America, but it was so 
distant from London that its authority was seriously impaired. 1 

In 1710 there were 37 customs officers in 1 1 North American 
colonies. That number had grown to only 50 by 1760, a 

1 For a thorough treatment of the origins and early history of the English 
customs service, including the problems caused by the expanding empire in 
America, see Elizabeth E. Hoon, The Organization of the English Customs 
System, 1696-1786 (Newton Abbot, England: 1968). 

The Coming of the American Revolution 

half-century later, on the eve of the massive increase in tensions 
that would lead to the Revolution. Those 50 customs men had to 
enforce English laws throughout an area stretching southward 
from the Maine plantations to Georgia, and inland from the 
Atlantic to the mountain barriers of the Appalachians in the 
north and the Blue Ridge in the south. Obviously, customs 
enforcement was virtually impossible without a whole army of 
"tidewaiters" (literally, those who waited for the tides bringing 
ships to port. "Tidesman" was another colloquialism inter- 
changeable with tidewaiter.) Since they were not at hand, the 
colonies were very much on their own. No wonder Americans 
resented enforcement attempts after 1760. They had spent a 
century and a half functioning with almost no trade regulation, 
the Navigation Acts on the books since 1651 notwithstanding. 

Whitehall had a point as well. It infuriated the British that 
the Americans would trade with the enemy on any pretext, 
whether that enemy be Spanish, French, or Dutch. As there were 
only six years of peace between 1739 and 1763, the problem from 
the British point of view was hardly theoretical. For example, 
colonial ships would clear customs in Boston or New York with 
a solitary French prisoner aboard — a prisoner whose presence 
served as an excuse for a voyage to the West Indies for an 
exchange of prisoners and the exchange of a sloop full of goods 
as well. The Americans would then return with one English 
soldier or sailor, as well as a cargo of valuable sugar, spices, 
wine, or molasses for rum-making which could easily be 
dropped in some inlet or harbor where customs supervision was 

The ineffectiveness of customs regulation rankled in London. 
This was one reason why, at the end of the Seven Years' War with 
France in 1763, Whitehall tried to exert new control over colonial 
trade by imposing first the Sugar Act and then, in 1765, the 
Stamp Act. To the colonies, however, these new acts signaled 
nothing less than a major shift in policy that was potentially 
oppressive and costly — and very much a departure from the 
previous 150 years of colonial experience. The gap between these 


The U.S. Customs Service 

two divergent attitudes explains the rise of tensions that led to 
the Revolution. Because enforcement of acts of trade formed a 
central issue, the customs establishment in America would 
surface as a key point of conflict between the colonies and the 
mother country. 2 

The Sugar Act: Enforcement of Customs Laws Begins 

The defeat of France in the Seven Years' War (also called the 
French and Indian War) in 1763 ended the last continental 
challenge to British hegemony over North America, and, Britain 
thought, made control over the American colonies secure for the 
first time in a century and a half. Now, Whitehall reckoned, the 
plantations could finally begin to fulfill their duties to the 
mother country and obey those long-standing Navigation Acts. 
As a means of both conditioning Americans to enforcement of 
the trade laws and emphasizing the new policy, Parliament in 
1764 enacted an updated version of the 1733 Molasses Act, 
called the Sugar Act. The new law mandated a duty of three 
cents per gallon of molasses and sugar imported into North 
America from the West Indies. The English saw the law only as 
"an experiment in Enforcement." Lord Grenville's real purpose, 
commented Horace Walpole, was less an effort to stamp out 
traditional "mischiefs" than it was to condition the colonists to 
growing enforcement of both old and new trade laws. 3 

Even before the Sugar Act was to take effect, the Treasury 
Office had taken administrative steps to pave the way for 
enforcement. "New orders had been given to the customs staff, 
additional officers authorized where needed, and regular ac- 

2 The British customs service in colonial America is ably dealt with in 
Thomas C. Barrow, Trade and Empire: The British Customs Service in 
Colonial America, 1660-1775 (Cambridge, Mass.: 1967). Because of the 
inaccessibility of sources at the time of writing, the book is less successful in 
dealing with the period of confrontation after 1763. 

3 Horace Walpole, Memoirs of the Reign of George the Third, 4 vols. 
(London: 1894), vol. II, p. 51. 

The Coming of the American Revolution 

counts requested." "Contraband" trade, heretofore carried on 
"with too much Impunity^' was to come to an end. The act also 
provided financial rewards for compliance. Proceeds from con- 
demnations were to be divided three ways: one-third went to the 
customs collector "for the use of the King" (it was, in fact, 
divided with the Crown); one-third to the colonial governor; and 
one-third to the informer. If the Navy were involved, the 
collector and governor turned one-half of their take over to the 
ship involved in the seizure. 4 

Some Americans understood the Sugar Act to be negotiable, 
as the navigation laws had always been. Colonial merchants had 
traditionally either avoided the old molasses duty entirely or, by 
arrangement with customs, pared it down to a penny a gallon. If 
the new act were to be enforced, they would be willing to 
compromise. This attitude was adeptly expressed in Providence, 
Rhode Island. A correspondent to the Providence Gazette noted 
that merchants would pay up to a penny a gallon "rather than 
run the risque of the customs house office" in town, but would 
not pay more, and would evade customs if necessary. 5 This 
perception was not shared by those Americans who became 
Loyalists, however. Daniel Leonard, writing as "Massachusetten- 
sis" before the Revolution, described most American merchants 
as avaricious and suggested that their greed had political as well 
as economic roots. "A smuggler and a Whig [an opponent of the 
mother country] are cousins^ he wrote, "the offspring of two 
sisters, avarice and ambition. . . . The smuggler received pro- 
tection from the Whig, and he in turn received support from the 
smuggler." 6 

Whether prompted by profit or politics, smuggling, although 
always common in colonial America, increased precipitously 

4 Barrow, Trade and Empire, pp. 180-84. 

5 Providence Gazette, November 8, 1766. 

6 Daniel Leonard and John Adams engaged in a classic 18th-century 
newspaper debate in 1774 and 1775 in the pages of the Boston Massachusetts 
Gazette. Adams wrote under the pseudonym "Novanglus," Leonard as 
"Massachusettensis." The essays were later reprinted. See Novanglus and 
Massachusettensis (Boston: 1819), pp. 161, 169. 

The U.S. Customs Service 

after 1764. Nor was the smuggling confined to rowing a cargo 
ashore by moonlight and stashing it in a sea-washed cave until it 
could be collected; much of it now was done during regular 
business hours. For example, in 1765 James Cockle, the collector 
of customs at Salem, Massachusetts, took a £50 bribe from the 
owner of the sloop Gloucester to undervalue the cargo. An 
informer provided evidence to John Temple, the surveyor general 
of customs for New England, who promptly sacked Cockle. 
Governor Francis Bernard just as quickly protested the dis- 
missal, arguing in a letter to the Board of Trade in London that 
smuggling was a way of life in the colonies and that no individual 
collector should be singled out for punishment. Temple, who was 
outraged, accused the Massachusetts governor of both conspir- 
ing with Cockle (whom a witness had described as one of 
Bernard's "milch-cows") and sharing in the smuggling profits. 
That accusation may not have been far from the truth, and the 
phenomenon may well have been widespread in colonial ports. 7 
The Cockle incident was hardly unique. John Temple, a 
dedicated officer who would eventually be broken by the Amer- 
ican Revolution, constantly complained about increased smug- 
gling as a direct result of the Sugar Act, and about the 
unwillingness of the colonial British government establishment 
in America to do much about it. For example, he reported that 
American merchant vessels were avoiding New York City cus- 
toms by sailing up the Hudson River to offload at Albany, where 

7 For the Cockle affair, see Affidavit of Philemon Warner, January 15, 
1765; John Temple to Commissioners of Customs in London, February 2, 
1765; Francis Bernard to Lord Halifax, no date, Treasury Records, Class 1, 
North America: Customs and Excise, Box 441, pp. 344-47, 372-73, Public 
Records Office, Kew, London (hereafter referred to as PRO). 

For the Temple-Bernard rift, which grew to significant proportions in 
time, and for further detail on the Cockle affair, see ibid., John Temple to 
Francis Bernard, August 28, 1764; William Wood to Charles Jenkinson, 
October 19, 1764; John Temple to Commissioners of Customs, London, 
September 10, 1764; James Cockle's Statement, September 4, 1764; Benjamin 
Crumbs and Benjamin Roberts to Cockle, July 30, 1764; J. Freemantle to 
Charles Jenkinson, November 29, 1764; John Temple to Commissioners of 
Customs, October 3, 1764, Treasury Records, Class 1, Box 429, American 
Customs, 1764, pp. 77-83. 

The Coming of the American Revolution 

there was no customs port. To prevent this large-scale evasion, 
Temple requested that London place "a preventive officer at 
Albany^ but years would elapse before he could match enforce- 
ment to evasion. 8 

Resistance Turns to Riot: The Robinson Affair at Newport 

At the beginning of 1765, American customs seemed to be 
functioning effectively in some places, if not in others. Governor 
William Franklin of New Jersey reported to Whitehall that "the 
Surveyor General and other officers of the customs have, by their 
vigilance, as far as I can learn, put a stop to the greatest part, if 
not the whole, of the illicit trade within this [New Jersey] 
district." 9 The same was true in Virginia. "In general I believe 
this colony stands as clear of illicit practices in Trade as any 
country that trades at all'' Virginia Governor Francis Fauquier 
reported to London. 10 

That calm exploded in April 1765, when the Newport, Rhode 
Island, customs collector seized and libeled the Polly. Libeling 
was the government's written claim of illegality in admiralty law, 
the first step in a court action to confiscate cargo. 

John Robinson had become collector at Newport in 1764; his 
district included also the part of southern Massachusetts that 
fronted Narragansett Bay. With great zeal and greater naivete he 
immediately set out to enforce long-ignored customs laws. He 
found, in the words of one historian, that in New England, "the 
white sails [the merchants] were doing dirty work." Robinson 
had several run-ins with Newport merchants before the day in 

8 John Temple to Commissioners of Customs, London, April 10, 1766, 
Treasury Records, Class 1, Box 452, North America Customs and Excise, 

9 William Franklin to the Earl of Halifax, November 8, 1764, Treasury 
Records, Class 1, North America: Customs and Excise, Box 442, PRO. 

10 Francis Fauquier to the Earl of Halifax, November 20, 1764, Colonial 
Office Papers, Class 5, Virginia: Original Correspondence, Secretary of State, 
1762-1767, vol. 1345, PRO. 

The U.S. Customs Service 

May 1765 when he ordered Tidewaiter Nicholas Lechmore to 
board the Polly, a Taunton, Massachusetts, sloop that had been 
smuggling molasses into Newport. Robinson's seizure of the 
Polly, according to Nicholas Lechmore at least, was absolutely 
legal and fully justified. The ship's master Timothy Doggett, 
swore Lechmore, falsified and undervalued his cargo. "Mr. 
Robinson suspected [Doggett's] Report was not Just." Lech- 
more's affidavit was supported by the affidavits of several other 
people in a file received in London and revealingly titled "State 
of the Riot and Robbery at Taunton." " 

Nevertheless, hostile mobs in Newport protested this action, 
and Timothy Doggett swore out a warrant for Robinson's arrest. 
Taken and marched the many miles to Taunton with a halter around 
his neck and a jeering crowd at his heels, Robinson languished in 
jail for several days before John Temple, with no help from 
Governor Bernard, secured his release. Returning to Newport, 
Robinson found to his dismay that unrest and crowd actions 
threatened both him and his subordinates; the mob had even seized 
the customhouse itself. He and his men took refuge offshore 
aboard the British naval vessel Cygnet, where they remained virtual 
prisoners throughout the summer of 1765, conducting business as 
best they could from that improbable station. 12 

Although Robinson understood that if he eased up in libeling 
the Polly, "I might come on Shore in Safety and Rely on their 
[merchants'] Protection," 13 he refused to compromise. Instead 

Affidavits of Nicholas Lechmore, John Robinson, and others, May 4, 
1765, filed together under the heading "State of the Riot and Robbery at 
Taunton. ..." Treasury Records, Class 1, North America: Customs and 
Excise, Box 442, PRO; Edmund M. and Helen Morgan, The Stamp Act Crisis 
(Chanel Hill, N.C.: 1953), pp. 40-52. 

'"For the Robinson affair see ibid. See also John Temple to Commission- 
ers of Customs, London, June 23, 1766; and passim, Temple Letter Book, 
Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston; Francis Bernard to Lord Halifax, 
May 11, 1765; and passim, Francis Bernard Papers, vol. Ill, Harvard College 

13 Newport Mercury, September 9, 1765; John Robinson to Commission- 
ers of Customs, London, August 28, 1765, Treasury Records, Class 1, North 
America: Customs and Excise, Box 442, PRO. 


The Coming of the American Revolution 

of trimming his sails to the prevailing winds, the collector 
published a blistering broadside to the people of Newport. 
Datelined "On Board the Cygnet, Newport Harbour^' it noted 
that Robinson could not return to his customhouse until the 
perpetual mob surrounding it dispersed. Because of that mob, he 
wrote, the customs officers "have thereby been deterred from the 
Execution of their respective Functions, and have shut up His 
Majesty's Custom House, not deeming it safe" to conduct 
business. He asked the crowd to scatter and offered a reward of 
$100 to anyone "who will discover any or either of the [original] 
Said Rioters" who had seized the customhouse in the first place. 
"All Negroes excepted'' he added, indicating clearly that blacks 
were a part of the original Whig mob practicing pre- 
Revolutionary "politics-out-of-doors." 14 

John Temple naturally became Robinson's champion, and 
accused Bernard of waffling in enforcing the existing trade laws 
out of fear of antagonizing the colonials. The Robinson incident 
made it painfully clear that it was easy for colonial officials to 
use the customs establishment as a scapegoat for unrest over 
trade law enforcement in general and the Sugar and Stamp Acts 
in particular. Robinson's treatment, wrote Temple, "is of such 
importance to the Revenue" that London must act. "The 
[Customs] Service suffers much in this Province [Massachusetts] 
for want of Law officers of the Crown" to provide quick legal 
redress for customs officers prevented from doing their duty. 
This was necessary, Temple explained, because customs person- 
nel could not count on support from either the governor or his 
council. 15 

In his post-mortem Robinson himself affirmed the state of 
seige under which he was operating. "Our situation^' he reported 

14 Broadside dated September 2, 1765, signed by Robinson and John 
Nicholls, comptroller of customs at Newport, Treasury Records, Class 1, 
North America: Customs and Excise, Box 442, PRO. 

15 John Temple to Commissioners of Customs, London, May 7, 1765, 
Treasury Records, Class 1, North America: Customs and Excise, Box 442, 

The U.S. Customs Service 

to Whitehall, "exposes us [customs personnel] a prey to the 
lawless fury, not of a trifling Mob, but of a whole country, 
inflamed to an intolerable degree, Subject to no Rule or Order, 
but abandoned and licentious in Principles from the very nature 
of Government." And he echoed Temple's lament about the lack 
of proper local support. We are, he added, "without protection 
or support, either to enable us to do our Duty, or secure our 
place in Society." Lechmore and John Nicholls, comptroller of 
customs at Newport, appended an equally revealing postscript to 
Robinson's report, noting tersely that even months later they 
"receive various informations, threatening them or their 
Houses." 16 

The seizure of the Polly, public wrath in Newport, and 
subsequent events in Massachusetts exposed major weaknesses 
in customs operations in North America. For one thing, the 
Robinson affair deepened the rift between Surveyor General of 
Customs John Temple and Massachusetts Governor Francis 
Bernard, a rupture that had first surfaced in the contretemps 
over the Sugar Act. For another, it made clear the power that 
mobs would exert over efforts to prevent customs enforcement in 
New England. Finally, it demonstrated all too well the relative 
weakness of customs officers when stacked against the power 
American merchants could wield when necessary. 

The Robinson incident also indicated that even before the 
Stamp Act took effect, the Customs Service in America had 
become a political football, kicked around by competing English 
factions and colonial officials in the New World. Yet all this 
infighting, while delighting colonials who saw it as a way of 
preserving their relatively untaxed trade, raised very little reaction in 
London. English apathy in the face of this threat to the governance 
of the empire seems incredible now, but it was part of that lack of 
understanding of the colonial mind that contributed to the coming 
of the Revolution. Governor Henry Ward wrote twice to Whitehall 

16 Ibid., John Robinson to Charles Lowndes and Commissioners of 
Customs in London, August 28, 1765, postscript to same submitted as 
affidavit by Nicholas Lechmore and John Nicholls, August 29, 1765. 


The Coming of the American Revolution 

in the aftermath of the Robinson affair requesting that Newport 
customs men be compensated for property damage done to their 
homes, as well as for loss of income sustained in the riots. No one 
in London bothered to answer, let alone provide compensation. 17 
Ten years later, just prior to independence, a Newport customs 
officer was still seeking "an indemnification by the Losses he has 
sustained in a Riot that happened at Newport in Rhode Island in 
August, 1765." ,8 

Resistance and Riot: The Stamp Act 

Events at Newport and Taunton almost immediately spilled 
over into Boston, which from 1764 on was the center of 
pre-Revolutionary activity. Anger over the Stamp Act ran deep in 
the commercially oriented Bay Colony. While the collector of 
customs, Roger Hale (who would soon return to England), was 
described as a "sensible man and a very good officeif his 
second-in-command, Comptroller Benjamin Hallowell, was not 
well liked. His home was the first target of a hostile crowd on the 
night of August 26, 1765, when it was sacked and looted. This 
tactic of intimidation by crowd action became a hallmark of 
pre-Revolutionary furor; time after time, local customhouses 
and houses of customs officers were the easiest and most visible 
targets around. 19 

Trouble was expected from November 1, 1765, when the stamp 
duties took effect. But stamp shipments to the South were delayed, 
allowing customs officials in Georgia and Virginia temporarily to 
clear ships with documents attached to their papers certifying that 

17 Henry Ward to Lord Shelburne, June 25 and November 6, 1766, 
Treasury Records, Class 1, North America: Miscellaneous, Box 452, PRO. 

I8 Entry of February 16, 1776, Treasury Records, Class 29, Minute Books, 
Board of Trade, January-December 1776, vol. 45, p. 23, PRO. 

19 "Diary of Josiah Quincy, Jr.;' August 27, 1765, Massachusetts Histor- 
ical Society Proceedings, vol. IV (1860), pp. 47-51; J. Freemantle to Charles 
Lowndes, October 22, 1765, Treasury Records, Class 1, North America: 
Customs and Excise, Box 442, PRO. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

the stamps were not available. The customhouse at Savannah, for 
example, blithely cleared ships for weeks in this way, avoiding 
trouble with locals in the process. The Chesapeake ports functioned 
the same way. The Surveyor General of Customs in Virginia, Peter 
Randolph, told his collectors to continue clearing vessels after 
November 1 as they had done before, explaining that the Board of 
Trade had failed to get the stamps to the southern colonies on time. 
He wrote to the Norfolk collector that "impossibilities will not be 
expected of us^' adding that "our Conduct will stand justified." 20 
This reprieve was short-lived, however, as the stamps arrived soon 

The stamps had reached the northern ports right on time, 
and those customhouses fared much worse. The customs collec- 
tor in New York City reported on November 4 that "we are at 
present in the utmost confusion imaginable occasioned by 
frequent Mobs." With understandable exaggeration he wrote 
that "Five thousand men" had gathered outside the custom- 
house for several nights. "At present," he added without stretch- 
ing the truth, "there is an end of all Government" in the city. The 
Sons of Liberty in the town, the collector disclosed, "insist we 
should clear vessells as usual without them [stamps]." The Sons 
in fact had become the government for the time being, and 
would call the shots in the city for the duration. "It is as much 
as our Lives are worth," confessed the collector, "to pretend to 
oppose any measure they [the Sons] direct." 

This fact of life was brought home painfully to the New York City 
customs naval officer. Charles Williams was foolhardy enough to 
take it on himself to obey the law and used stamped paper in 
clearances out of the port. The Sons of Liberty convened a meeting 
in a nearby coffeehouse; the meeting got out of hand, and a mob 

20 For Georgia, see the Georgia Gazette, November 7, 14, 1765; The 
Colonial Records of the State of Georgia, Allen D. Candler, ed. (1904-1915), 
vol. IX, pp. 439-40, 454-56. In Georgia, unlike Massachusetts, the governor 
and Council officially approved of the actions of the Georgia customhouses. 
For Virginia, see Peter Randolph to the Norfolk Customs Collector, Novem- 
ber 2, 1765, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. II (1878), 
pp. 298-99. 


The Coming of the American Revolution 

left the coffeehouse for Williams' home, where they "broke open the 
Door and destroyed some of the furniture." The Sons, sensing that 
tactically they had allowed things to go too far, restrained the mob 
before too much damage was done and promised the crowd that 
Williams would publicly apologize the next day. This Williams 
did — mounted on a scaffold. 21 

Philadelphia customs Collector John Hughes summed up as 
well as anyone in the colonies both the hostility of Americans 
everywhere and the degree to which the customhouses formed 
the most visible targets for that animus. "No Custom House 
officer in America," he wrote to London, "dare venture to seize 
a Vessel, even if she came without any Papers at all." As far as 
Newburyport, Massachusetts, customs was concerned, these 
words were prophetic. A customs officer there used a revenue 
cutter to seize an unstamped cargo of molasses in Newburyport 
harbor. "Half a dozen boats well manned," the lieutenant 
governor of Massachusetts reported, "went after the [customs] 
officer, took the goods from him and the boat he was in and left 
him all night upon the beach." 22 

By mid-December 1765 things had heated up in the South as 
well. The collector in Charleston reported that "no vessel can 
leave this Port," and both the stamp distributor and the customs 
officers prudently agreed not to force the issue. Francis Fauquier, 
the faint-hearted governor of Virginia, reported to London that 
"Dissatisfaction at the Duties laid by the late Stamp Act, which 
breaks out and shews itself on every trifling occasion," made 
customs enforcement of the Stamp Act impossible. "Dissent of 
its people of the colony against receiving the Stamps is too strong 
for my poor abilities to overcome." Unwilling to support his 

21 For events in New York City, see David Colden and Zachariah Hood to 
Commissioners of Customs, London, November 4, 1765, Treasury Records, 
Class 1, North America: Customs and Excise, Box 442, PRO; Morgan and 
Morgan, The Stamp Act Crisis, pp. 195-96. 

Thomas Hutchinson to Thomas Pownall, March 8, 1766, Thomas 
Hutchinson Letterbook, vol. XXVI, Massachusetts State Archives, Boston; 
John Hughes to Commissioners of Customs, London, December 1, 1765, 
Treasury Records, Class 1, North America: Customs and Excise, Box 442, PRO. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

customs officers, he informed Whitehall that "The Flame is 
spread thro' all the Continent, and one colony supports another 
in their disobedience to superior powers." 23 

Bowing to what had become inevitable, Parliament repealed the 
act, vowing to correct their earlier mistakes in failing to provide the 
means of independent customs oversight and enforcement. These 
matters were attended to in the Townshend Acts of 1767, which laid 
duties on a whole variety of colonial imports; promulgated major 
restrictions on colonial trade; and, most important from the 
perspective of customs operations, established the American Board 
of Customs Commissioners at Boston to oversee and coordinate 
customs enforcement on the spot. 

Boston and the American Board of Customs Commissioners 

By transferring full authority and decisionmaking capability 
from London to Boston, Parliament hoped that the American 
Commissioners could overcome the major impediment to the 
enforcement of the revenue laws. The Customs commissioners, 
who as a unit replaced the surveyors general of Customs in the 
several regions of North America, had the power to act on their 
own initiative, with no need to refer to Whitehall. This made 
possible, in theory at least, quick support of customs officers in 
America. But even as Parliament repealed the Stamp Act and 
pondered these new measures, reaction to that act doomed the 
new initiative before it even began. 

For one thing, the failure of the repealed law had led to 
friction between the Navy and the Customs Service. Massachu- 
setts Governor Bernard reported a "breakdown of cooperation" 

23 Francis Fauquier to Earl of Halifax, June 14, 1765, Fauquier to Lords 
Commissioners of Trade and Plantations, November 3, 1765, Fauquier to 
H.S. Conway, November 5, 1765, and passim, Colonial Office Papers, Class 
5, Virginia: Original Correspondence of the Secretary of State, 1762-1767, 
vol. 345, PRO; C. Lloyd to Commissioners of Customs, London, December 
12, 1765, Treasury Records, Class 1, North America: Customs and Excise, 
Box 442, PRO. 


The Coming of the American Revolution 

between the two that spilled over into 1766. 24 Second, most of 
the colonies were already primed to resist any new enforcement. 
They had vehemently expressed their opposition both to the use 
of writs of assistance (which gave customs officers the direct 
power to enter warehouses and even private homes without a 
warrant in search of contraband) and to the trial of alleged 
customs offenders in admiralty courts in England, far removed 
from friendly juries and judges. 25 Finally, colonists possessed 
and used leverage of their own. Even before he sanctioned the 
acts that bear his name, Lord Townshend advised the Treasury 
Board that all budget negotiations between the New York 
Assembly and the governor were at a standstill and that this 
situation threatened elsewhere, too. The unappropriated money 
was badly needed to pay for the salaries and supplies of the 
troops stationed in the colonies. 26 

Aware that a host of problems awaited them, the American 
Board of Customs Commissioners landed in Boston on Novem- 
ber 4, 1767. Unhappily, this was the day before Pope's Day, 
colonial Boston's equivalent of Guy Fawkes Day, traditionally 
celebrated with parades, banners, and bonfires. As a welcoming 
gesture, reported Governor Bernard, the commissioners were 
lampooned along with the customary Catholic targets "by an 
inscription or two on the pageants [banners] which were carried 
about on the Day as usual." In less than three weeks, Sam 
Adams' Sons of Liberty had clearly drawn the lines of opposi- 
tion. A proclamation posted on the liberty tree in Boston 

24 Francis Bernard to Commissioners of Customs, April 29, 1766, Trea- 
sury Records, Class 1, North America: Customs and Excise, Box 442, PRO. 

25 For more on the Writs of Assistance as a cause of the Revolution, and 
the central role of customs in that political struggle, see L. Kinvin Wroth and 
Hiller B. Zobel, eds., Legal Papers of John Adams (Cambridge, Mass.: 
1965), vol. II, pp. Ill, 113n, 125-28, 144, and passim. The colonial resolves 
encouraged by the Stamp Act Congress and passed by most of the colonial 
legislative assemblies featured prominently their hostility to trial in English 
admiralty courts. See, for example Proceedings of the Congress at New York 
(Annapolis: 1766), pp. 15-16; and Pennsylvania Gazette, December 5, 1765. 

26 Lord Townshend to the Treasury Board, March 22, 1766, Treasury 
Records, Class 1, North America: Miscellaneous, Box 452, PRO. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

threatened "to carry the commissioners and all their customs 
officers to Liberty Tree and there make them resign their 
Commissions." Several Massachusetts constituencies also sent 
remonstrances to London protesting both the Townshend duties 
and the arrival of the Board. 27 

The Board was not without troubles of its own. From the 
beginning it was correctly perceived to be tied to the Francis 
Bernard-Thomas Hutchinson faction that controlled Massachu- 
setts politics. This immediately marked the commissioners as 
enemies both to the elite merchant community and to the 
laboring classes that worked the waterfront. 28 To make matters 
worse, the Customs commissioners themselves were not able to 
form a united front. A few of the appointees resented the fact 
that one of their number, Charles Paxton, had purchased his 
commission in London. Paxton, an American, had had extensive 
experience with British customs in the colonies. Personal differ- 
ences also separated Paxton from John Temple, who was perhaps 
the ablest of the five commissioners. Certainly he was the only 
one the colonists respected. The two men's estrangement was 
longstanding. After learning of Paxton's "appointment!' Temple 
wrote to him: "No consideration shou'd tempt me to [remember] 
the pain that I receive at Recollecting past Insincerity and 
ingratitude, let it be sufficient that I now coolly tell you, all that 
is past I forgive and desire to forget. I shall always treat you like 
a Gentleman, but desire no further Intimacy than our offices 
necessarily Requires." 29 To cap matters, one of the remaining 

27 Francis Bernard to Earl of Shelburne, November 14, 21, 1767, Colonial 
Office Papers, Class 5, Massachusetts: Original Correspondence of the 
Secretary of State, vol. 757, 1767-1768, PRO. 

28 This generalization was true for most of New England. For the 
Massachusetts situation, see E. Channing and A.C. Coolidge, eds., The 
Barrington-Bernard Correspondence (Cambridge, Mass., 1912). For Rhode 
Island see Commerce of Rhode Island, 9 vols., Massachusetts Historical 
Society, Series 7, vol. IX. 

29 John Temple to Charles Paxton, January 27, 1766, Temple Letter Book, 
1762-1768, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston. See also Maurice M. 
Smith, "Charles Paxton, Founding Stepfather;' Proceedings, Massachusetts 
Historical Society, vol. 94, 1982. 


The Coming of the American Revolution 

commissioners was John Robinson, promoted from the collec- 
tor's post that had caused him so much suffering before and 
during the Stamp Act crisis. His practical experience may have 
been invaluable, but he could hardly have been in a conciliatory 
frame of mind in 1767. 

Despite the hostility that threatened its mission, the Ameri- 
can Board of Customs Commissioners moved quickly to improve 
enforcement of the trade laws. They were convinced that years of 
looking the other way had corrupted local customs personnel. 
"The persons employed in the Out Door Business [have] been 
guilty of Collusive practices^' the commission reported to Lon- 
don. To neutralize the old guard in Boston harbor "we thought 
it necessary to employ some extra Tidesmen on board of vessels" 
arriving in that city, and issued new rules for their work. 30 
"Tidesmen" were to board vessels before they docked and to 
oversee docking; they were not to leave the ship until a "land- 
waiter" (inspector) took over supervision of the goods. Mean- 
while, the new instructions read, "there are usually two or more 
Tidesmen placed upon a Ship, who are by turns to take their 
Watches upon Deck, one of you are constantly to keep your 
Station there walking to and fro, and not to leave the Deck 
unguarded." Be alert for "hidey-holes'' the inspectors were 
warned, and allow no offloading by night. "You are not, on any 
pretence whatever^ came the final admonition, "to invite your 
Wife or Friends, or suffer them to be . . . entertained on 
board . . . nor presume to receive any treats or Entertainment 
from the Master, Mate or other Officers of the Ship." In other 
words, suspect everyone. 31 

30 Thomas Bradshaw to John Pownall, July 8, 1768, Colonial Office 
Papers, Class 5, Massachusetts: Original Correspondence, Secretary of State, 
1767-1768, vol. 757, PRO. 

31 "Instructions by the Commissioners of His Majesty's Customs in 
America to Benjamin Sanford, who is appointed Tidesman at the Port of 
New Haven, 13 April, 1769^' New Haven Harbor Collection: Custom House 
Miscellany, 1762-1775, MSS 57C, New Haven Colony Historical Society, New 
Haven, Connecticut. This was a printed form with the name and location 
filled in by hand, indicating that these were general instructions. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

At the same time the commissioners ordered customs clear- 
ance for those vessels engaged in the coasting (internal) trade. 
Because these ships were traditionally free of customs controls, 
they were frequently used for smuggling. "The officers of the 
Custom House cannot legally oblige, and ought not to insist 
upon those vessels who coast it" to clear customs, a contempo- 
rary journal protested, but regulation of the coasting trade 
nevertheless began in earnest in 1767. 32 

The beefed-up customs operation in Boston, along with new 
regulations and stronger oversight of the coasting trade, all "gave 
umbrage to the Merchants." 33 That outrage was most notori- 
ously expressed by John Hancock, who delivered the final blow 
to the Customs commissioners' authority in the colonies. He 
"went out of his way to show his contempt for the commission- 
ers of Customs and make them disliked in Boston." The seizure 
of two of his sloops, the Lydia in April 1768 and the Liberty that 
June, created the furor that both he and his fellow merchants 
and the working class Sons of Liberty wanted. Boston customs 
collector Joseph Harrison had ordered two tidewaiters aboard 
the Lydia to check the manifest against the cargo before she 
reached port. Hancock forbade them to go below decks; they did 
anyway and were forcibly stopped and set ashore by the crew. 
The sympathetic Massachusetts attorney-general refused to pros- 
ecute Hancock, and Governor Bernard, fearing further violence, 
supported his decision. Refusing to knuckle under and sup- 
ported by the Customs commissioners if no one else, Harrison 
seized the Liberty two months later, this time taking care to use 
sufficient force to hold the vessel while he libeled it and began 
the process of condemning it and its cargo. 34 

32 OHver M. Dickinson, ed., Boston Under Military Rule, 1768-1769, as 
revealed in A Journal of the Times (Boston: 1936), entry for January 12, 

33 Thomas Bradshaw to John Pownall, July 8, 1768, Colonial Office 
Papers, Class 5, Massachusetts: Original Correspondence, Secretary of State. 
1767-1768, vol. 757, PRO. 

34 The story of the Hancock seizures is well known. A complete account may 
be found in Oliver M. Dickerson, The Navigation Acts and the American 

The Coming of the American Revolution 

Riots in Boston followed, and "politics out of doors" 
reached new heights. Hancock claimed that both seizures were 
made without cause and were meant to punish him financially 
for his long-standing leadership of the opposition to British 
authority. The government saw it differently. Thomas Gage, the 
general commanding the redcoats stationed in and around 
Boston, reported that Hancock and his partner declared "pub- 
licly that they would land their Goods and would not pay the 
Duties ... in defiance of the Officers of the Customs." In 
fact, the two partners were arrested once Gage had gathered 
enough troops to guard the prisoners and prevent violence 
against the customhouse, the commissioners, and the govern- 
ment. "Mr. Hancock," explained Gage, was, after all, "the 
Leader . . . of the Mob." 35 

The Hancock affair demonstrated just how tightly the customs 
officers were squeezed. Robert Hallowell told the Board of Trade in 
direct testimony that he heard Hancock himself declare that before 
the Liberty entered the harbor he would "run her cargo of Wines 
on Shore." This he did, and he reported only 25 casks when there 
were several more. Hallowell also asserted that Thomas Kirk, one 
of the two inspectors sent aboard, was offered a bribe if he would 
"consent to hoisting out several Casks of Wine that night before the 
vessel was entered." Kirk "preemptorily refused" and was impris- 
oned by the crew below deck. Kirk's fellow inspector "was drunk, 
and had gone home to bed." 36 

Despite threats from the town that a "great uproar" would 
follow the Liberty's seizure, H.M.S. Romney sent a prize crew 

Revolution, (Philadelphia: 1951), pp. 232 ff. Less well known is the impact on the 
American Board of Customs Commissioners, the customhouse in Boston, and 
the ripples the Hancock seizures caused throughout the rest of the colonies. 

"Thomas Gage to Lord Hillsborough, March 5, 1769, in Clarence E. 
Carter, ed., Correspondence of General Thomas Gage, 2 vols. (New Haven, 
Conn.: 1931-1933), vol. I, p. 220. Many of the sources recounting the seizures 
specifically of Hancock's vessels can be found in G.G. Wolkins, "The Seizure 
of John Hancock's Sloop Liberty, Massachusetts Historical Society Proceed- 
ings, vol. XV (Boston: 1921-1933), pp. 251 ff. 

36 Entry of November 29, 1768, Treasury Papers, Class 29: Treasury 
Board Minute Books, October 1767-April 1768, vol. 39, PRO. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

aboard Hancock's ship and brought it to the customhouse dock. 
"The Mob laid hold of the Ropes and pelted the British officers 
and seamen with stones"; only the threat of force temporarily 
drove the crowd away. Later that day, however, Collector Harri- 
son and Hallowell "were surrounded" as they left the custom- 
house "by a Mob of four or five hundred persons who beat and 
wounded them and it was with difficulty they escaped with their 
life." 37 

The confrontation with Hancock proved a disaster. In June 
1768, barely six months after setting up shop in Boston, the 
American Board of Customs Commissioners was forced to flee 
the town. More rioting ensued. "All real Power is in the hands of 
People of the lowest Class," Governor Bernard wrote. "Civil 
Authority can do nothing but what they will allow." The 
governor told "the Commissioners that I can give them no 
Protection." The commissioners first boarded the British frigate 
Romney anchored in Boston harbor; when it became clear that 
the mob would not let them ashore soon, they took more 
permanent refuge on Castle William, an island at the edge of the 
harbor. The colonial government caved in. "I told the Council 
[the upper house of the legislature] that I was ready to put the 
Question for applying to the general [Gage] for Troops." The 
governor was told by the Council "that they did not 'desire to be 
knocked on the head; I told them that I did not desire it neither." 
The fear of a knock on the head was in the air in Boston. By 
1768, Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson reported, revo- 
lutionaries "armed with bludgeons" were used as enforcers to 
intimidate both customs personnel and commissioners alike, 
making Castle William a more attractive retreat than it otherwise 
might have been. The commissioners were left to their exile. 38 

37 Ibid. 

38 Francis Bernard to Thomas Gage, July 2, 1768, Colonial Office Papers, 
Class 5, Massachusetts: Original Correspondence of the Secretary of State, 
1767-1768, vol. 757, PRO. For Hutchinson's observations see Thomas 
Hutchinson, The History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts-Bay, 
Lawrence S. Mayo, ed., 3 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.: 1936), vol. Ill, 134-36. 


The Coming of the American Revolution 

They did, however, order Robert Hallowell, the comptroller 
of customs at Boston and collector Harrison's second in com- 
mand, to embark immediately for England to report the state of 
affairs to the Board of Trade in person. That Hallowell was not 
given an audience by the Board until November 29, 1768, only 
underscored the Crown's continuing inability to rule from a 
distance. Hallowell pleaded that the Board should order protec- 
tion for the commissioners and customs personnel from further 
harassment by the crowd, adding incorrectly that "the people of 
Boston would not be joined by any of the better sort of People 
if actual resistance was to be made to the Government." 
Removed from the situation, Hallowell did not understand that 
opposition to customs enforcement derived not only from 
artisan Sons of Liberty but from elite merchants as well. 39 

By the winter of 1769 Lieutenant Governor Thomas 
Hutchinson had gained that understanding. In a summary of the 
events in Boston he reported to the Board of Trade that there was 
"prejudice against this new Board of Customs as soon as it was 
appointed." People of all classes, he disclosed, "treated them 
with uncommon neglect and contempt." Only John Temple, 
who perceived that there were two sides to the story and conveyed 
his sympathies to the colonists on occasion, was given dispen- 
sation to return to town. In general, Hutchinson added, "until 
their withdrawal to the Castle" the remaining four "were the 
objects of popular Odium." Only the arrival of Gage's troops to 
serve as personal bodyguards made it possible for the other four 
commissioners to return to Boston. And yet, insisted Hutchin- 
son, it was not the commissioners' behavior that was at the root 
of the problem; it was long-standing colonial resistance to either 
taxation or enforcement. The board acted cautiously and pru- 
dently, he felt, but with virtually inflexible "fidelity to their 
Trust" to enforce revenue laws and oversee customs collection. 
This put customs officers throughout America on the spot, 

39 Entry for November 29, 1768, Treasury Papers, Class 29: Treasury 
Board Minute Books, October 1767-April 1769, vol. 39, PRO. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

especially once word of Boston's resistance to the Townshend 
Acts spread to other ports. 40 

The problem facing all Customs personnel in America, 
Hutchinson concluded, was that the colonists with good reason 
feared that the combination of the Townshend Acts and their 
enforcement on the scene by the board "would cause new charges 
and new and heavy burdens upon Trade." Until 1767, he 
reminded the Board of Trade, "for two or three years together no 
customs officer cared to carry into execution" either the Sugar or 
the Stamp Act. Now, closely supervised by the old world and the 
new, customs people were squeezed between government pressure 
for enforcement and "Popular Clamour" from the colonists. 
"Popular Clamour" won. 41 

The story's sequel offers testimony to the stress under which 
Boston customs officers functioned. Hallowell remained in 
England and soon resigned in favor of his son. Six months after 
the Liberty affair, a worn-out and troubled Joseph Harrison was 
granted permission to resign the collectorship and "return to 
England for the recovery of his Health." The Treasury Board 
directed "that no deduction shall be made from [his] salary 
... on account of his absence." George Meserve, Hallowell's 
replacement at Boston, was transferred to a supposedly safe 
harbor at Piscataqua, New Hampshire, after less than a year in 
the city. Surveyor of Customs and leading searcher Daniel 
Chamier resigned within a year of the incident. 42 

The customs commissioners showed the strain, too. On 
January 15, 1768, John Temple asked "leave to return to 
England for the establishment of his health." A month later 
John Robinson wrote that "the commissioners think it necessary 

40 Thomas Hutchinson to Lord Hillsborough, February 3, 1769, Colonial 
Office Papers, Class 5, Massachusetts: Original Correspondence of the 
Secretary of State, 1768-1769, vol. 758, PRO. 

41 Ibid. 

42 George Onslow et al. to Joseph Harrison, February 1, 1769; Lord 
North et al. to Daniel Chamier, July 24, 1770; Lord North to George Meserve, 
September 7, 1770; Treasury Papers, Class 1, Various Out Letters, America, 
1763-1778, vol. 28, PRO. 


The Coming of the American Revolution 

that one of them should come to England this Year [and] that he 
should be the Person." Leaving Boston while under fire was, 
however, a weakness the Treasury lords would not tolerate, and 
so replied that "they do not think it fit at present to give leave to 
any of the Commissioners to come to England." 43 

Beyond Boston: The Customs Service and the 
Townshend Duties 

Trouble flared elsewhere in Massachusetts as well after the 
Townshend duties took effect. Customs officers at Newburyport 
who tried to rescue informer Joshua Vickery were "greatly 
abused." Vickery himself was put in the stocks, then paraded 
through town with a rope around his neck, hit with eggs, and 
locked in a warehouse over a weekend before being released. 44 In 
neighboring Salem, Tidewaiter James Rowe was subject to much 
the same treatment. Having refused a bribe, he pressed a seizure 
on the collector in 1769. For his efforts he was tarred and 
feathered on the town common, hung with placards branding 
him an informer, and wheeled in a cart through the town. After 
the local Sons of Liberty warned him out of Salem, the customs 
commissioners transferred him to Newburyport to avoid another 
incident. Rowe was either indefatigable or just plain stubborn, 
for a year later he reported "an illicit Trade" in Newburyport, 
"carried out there in favor of the Merchants to the prejudice of 
the Revenue." To prevent smuggling, he said that a "cutter has to 
be stationed off Cape Cod," and he volunteered to command it. 45 

Cape Cod and the off islands were indeed havens for 

43 Entries of May 3, 1768, Treasury Papers, Class 29, Treasury Board 
Minute Books, October 1767-April 1769, vol. 39, PRO. 

44 Essex Gazette, September 27, 1768; Customs Commissioners to the 
Lords of the Treasury, February 12, 1768, Colonial Office Papers, Class 5, 
Massachusetts: Original Correspondence of the Secretary of State, 
1767-1768, vol. 757, PRO. 

45 Essex Gazette, September 13, 1769; John Robinson to Lords of the 
Treasury, November 27, 1770, Treasury Papers, Class 1, Various Out Letters, 
America, 1763-1778, vol. 28, PRO. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

smuggling. A would-be smuggler taken at Falmouth on the Cape 
"was rescued out of the Custody of our officers'' the commis- 
sioners reported in 1768; the customs men "were at the same 
time attacked by a Mob." To add insult to injury, Collector 
Francis Waldo, one of the victims, claimed that the customs 
commissioners had decided in 1767 that he made enough in fees 
and so suspended his salary! Under "the present circumstances," 
he wrote Whitehall with classic understatement, that seemed a 
little unfair. He pointed out that he had been collector since 1757 
and deserved better treatment, but the Treasury lords simply sent 
him back to the commissioners. 46 

While saving money on the Cape, the commissioners were 
spending it on Nantucket. Samuel Proctor was named collector 
there because "the inhabitants of Nantucket, who are mostly of the 
persuasion called Quakers " were grossly evading the revenue laws. 
The commissioners ordered all vessels arriving in Boston from the 
island without Proctor's clearance to be seized, even if they claimed 
only to be coasting. The extra work in regulating the coasting trade, 
commented the Boston Evening Post about the Nantucket plan, 
was handled by new appointees. "If quarters are to be provided by 
the people for Customs-House officers who are daily increasing 
upon us;' the Post added facetiously, "we shall quickly perceive that 
we are without quarters ourselves." 47 

Ever since Collector John Robinson's seizure of the Polly in 
1765, Rhode Island had remained a center of revolutionary 
resistance. With the passage of the Townshend Acts, however, 
the center of that resistance shifted from Newport to Providence. 
Smugglers there were left undisturbed; two merchants who had 
been arrested, charged, and tried for evasion in 1768 "were 
acquitted" by a local jury "thro' the Combination and Influence 

46 Commissioners of Customs to the Lords of the Treasury, February 12, 
1768, Colonial Office Papers, Class 5, Massachusetts: Original Correspon- 
dence of the Secretary of State, 1767-1768, vol. 757, PRO; Minutes of 
Treasury Lord Grey Cooper, September 29, 1769, Treasury Papers, Class 1, 
Various Out Letters, America, 1763-1778, vol. 28, PRO. 

47 Boston Evening Post, October 3, 1768. 


The Coming of the American Revolution 

of the People." The Providence Sons of Liberty encouraged this 
protective attitude. They also encouraged action. "For the 
collection of the [Townshend] duties^' a proclamation posted on 
the town's liberty tree in the spring of 1769 proclaimed, the 
English "have sent fleets, armies, commissioners, guarda costas, 
judges of the admiralty, and a host of petty [customs] officers, 
whose insolence and rapacity have become intolerable." 48 

Within a few months, Providence Tidewaiter James Saiville, 
whom the Sons believed to be a paid informer as well as a customs 
agent, "was seized while on duty." He was "gagged; had his clothes 
cut from his body; was covered with turpentine and feathers from 
head to foot; was beaten; had dirt thrown on him; was carried 
about in a wheelbarrow." Collector Richard Reeve offered a reward 
of £50 for the capture of the guilty parties, with no success. 49 

Beyond Boston: The Townshend Acts in the South 

The upper southern colonies did not really begin to respond 
to revolutionary provocation until after the passage of the 
Townshend Acts. In general, tensions were lower in Virginia than 
in New England, although problems did exist. Before dispatch- 
ing one of his frigates to Hampton Roads to show the flag, 
Admiral Samuel Hood, commanding the British fleet in Amer- 
ica in 1768, reported to the Admiralty that "Disturbances in 
Virginia and other Provinces to the Southward ... are as great 

^Commissioners of Customs to the Lords of the Treasury, February 12, 
1768, Colonial Office Papers, Class 5, Massachusetts: Original Correspon- 
dence of the Secretary of State, 1767-1768, vol. 757, PRO; and New York 
Journal Supplement, April 27, 1769. 

49 Providence Gazette, June 10, 1769. A few months later a New Haven, 
Connecticut, tidesman suffered a similar fate. He was put on an "eminence" 
(scaffold) where he was made to promise never to turn anyone in again, "then 
given a coat of tar, two pillows of feathers were emptied over him, a pair of 
horns was fixed in his head, and he then was permitted to get out of town." 
See the Boston Gazette, September 18, 1769. The same tensions prevailed in 
the Port of New York; see the New York Journal, Supplements of March 2 
and July 6, 1769. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

as they well can be without actual Rebellion." Virginia Governor 
Norborne Botetourt confirmed that trouble was brewing. "I 
must not venture to flatter you with hopes," the governor wrote 
to Lord Hillsborough. Virginians will never "willingly submit to 
being taxed by the Mother Country; the reverse is their Creed." 
The Virginia House of Burgesses invoked that creed in 1769 by 
formally protesting the Townshend Acts as "injurious to prop- 
erty, and destructive to Liberty." Tensions remained low by 
Massachusetts standards, however, primarily because there were 
so few customs officers to oversee such a large and difficult area, 
allowing smuggling, according to John Blair, "to thrive not a 
little." There were "several creeks in the lower part of the 
[Chesapeake] District, very inviting to illicit Trade." 50 

The coast of South Carolina, in contrast, was much easier to 
patrol; consequently, confrontation there rivaled that in New 
England. Conflict in Charleston revolved around Henry Laurens, a 
wealthy merchant who turned out to be as much a revolutionary 
catalyst in the Deep South as John Hancock proved to be in the 
North. From 1767 on, Laurens felt himself to be victimized by the 
Charleston customhouse's efforts to enforce the Townshend duties. 
But if the customs collector had it in for him, Laurens proved he 
was quite able to take care of himself. About the time the 
Townshend Acts were to go into effect, Daniel Moore took up the 
post of customs collector. Moore had arrived from England in 
March 1767, just in time to begin enforcing the stiff new duties in 
a strange town. He soon found himself embroiled with town 
merchants in general and with Laurens, who was widely understood 

50 Norborne Botetourt to Lord Hillsborough, February 18, May 19, 1769, 
Colonial Office Papers, Class 5, Virginia: Original Correspondence with the 
Board of Trade, vol. 1332, PRO; Samuel Hood to Philip Stephens, November 
22, 1768, Colonial Office Papers, Class 5, Massachusetts: Original Corre- 
spondence of the Secretary of State, 1768-1768, vol. 758, PRO; John 
Williams to the Collector of Customs of the James River District, March 14, 
1769, British Board of Customs Papers, Class 21, Entry Book of Out-Letters 
from Boston, America, 1768-1775, vol. 16, PRO; Botetourt to Hillsborough, 
January 24, 1770, John Blair Jr. to Hillsborough, January 24, 1770, Colonial 
Office Papers, Class 5, Original Correspondence with the Board of Trade, 
1770-1772, vol. 1333, PRO. 


The Coming of the American Revolution 

to be the greatest evader of customs laws, in particular. The two 
men seemed to take an instant mutual dislike of each other, and 
during the six months he lasted in Charleston, Moore seized several 
of Henry Laurens's vessels. 

Like many of his fellow collectors in large ports, Moore was 
soon isolated and scorned. His effectiveness at an end, he was 
transferred to a safer post back home by the end of the summer 
of 1767. The day before he was to leave, Laurens paid him a visit. 
"I took occasion to speak to Mr. Moore on some part of his 
conduct towards myself, resolved not to lay a finger on him," 
recalled Laurens. But his resolve did not last long. "His base 
behaviour threw me off my guard," Laurens wrote to a friend. 
"My first resolutions vanished and a new one to twist his Nose 
took place and was instantly put in Execution." 51 This insult to 
the departing collector made Laurens an instant celebrity, first in 
South Carolina and ultimately throughout the colonies. 

The troubles in Charleston did not end with Moore's depar- 
ture. George Roupell, the deputy collector who replaced Moore, 
continued his predecessor's policy of harassing Laurens's ships, 
and, in July 1768, seized the sloop Ann. Laurens sued for 
damages and took his case to the public. "We consider no part 
of the money so wrested from us," Laurens wrote in an article 
published anonymously in the South Carolina Gazette, "could 
be expected to go into the treasury." It went instead, he alleged, 
into the pockets of the customs officers in town. 52 After a year 
of litigation, Roupell could not prove his case, and Laurens won 
a judgment for damages. Those damages, however, were paid 
out of local customs revenues. 53 

Accounts of the events in Charleston circulated widely 
through the colonies, as if to attest that the South suffered as 

51 Henry Laurens to James Habersham, September 5, 1767, The Papers of 
Henry Laurens, George C. Rogers, Jr., and David R. Chesnutt, eds., 10 + 
vols. (Columbia, S.C.: 1970-), vol. V, p. 296. 

52 South Carolina Gazette, July 27, 1769. 

53 See Account of October 19, 1769, The Papers of Henry Laurens, vol. 
VII, pp. 168-69. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

much as New England at the hands of English customs. 
"Swarms of searchers, tidewaiters, spies, and other underlings," 
the Pennsylvania Gazette disclosed, "now abound, and which 
were unknown before the board of Commissioners was estab- 
lished among us." These customs agents were "thirsting after the 
fortunes of worthy and wealthy men like Laurens." 54 

By the time the Townshend Acts were repealed in 1770, both 
English credibility and the Customs Service in America were in 
a shambles. As Americans increasingly allied themselves either 
with those who urged support of the crown or those who called 
for separation from it, customs personnel found themselves 
caught in the middle of this conflict of loyalties. Perhaps none 
felt this as keenly as those stationed in Boston. 

The Customs Service and the Tea Party, 1770-1774 

Both to preserve the principle of its right to tax its colonies and 
to save face, the British government retained a symbolic tax on tea 
when it repealed the Townshend duties. American resistance after 
1770 fixed on that symbol. Boston as usual led the way. "Large 
Quantities of Teas',' the commissioners cautioned collector Joseph 
Harrison early in 1772, "were introduced in the course of the last 
year which we are persuaded could not have happened without the 
Negligence or Connivance of the out of doors [customs] officers." 
The commissioners charged the Boston customhouse with suc- 
cumbing to the "encouragement" of town merchants to look the 
other way when tea arrived. "We do therefore expect that you keep 
a watchful Eye upon the Conduct of the several officers under your 
direction" Harrison was warned. 55 

54 This satirical piece appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette, October 19, 
1769, and in the Virginia Gazette, November 9, 1769, and probably elsewhere 
as well. Laurens's troubles were also mentioned in the Boston Evening Post, 
February 20, 1769. 

55 William Burch, Benjamin Hallowell, and Charles Paxton to Joseph 
Harrison, January 23, 1772, Boston Custom House Letterbook, 1763-1772, 
Essex Institute Historical Collections, Salem, Mass. 


The Coming of the American Revolution 

The enforcement problem, meanwhile, had spread far be- 
yond Boston. "Illicit practices are carried on by vessels arriving 
at Ipswich, Squam, Beverly, and the Creeks and ports adjacent'' 
the commissioners disclosed, and suggested that the Boston 
customhouse name a "Riding Officer [mounted Inspector] to 
visit and inspect these places." In a final and wholly vain effort 
to stop the flood of illegal tea, the commissioners promised to 
"reward" faithful officers who "acted with Spirit and Propriety" 
and to "punish those who shall appear to have been remiss in 
their endeavours to prevent or discourage such illicit 
Practices." 56 But customs officers who did attempt to enforce 
the tax on tea, whether in Boston, Rhode Island, or Philadel- 
phia, met with "Ill-Treatment and Obstruction." 57 

Whitehall did what it could. It ordered Admiral Richard 
Gambier to use his fleet to "Support and protect" the "Officers 
of the Revenue" at Boston. By this time, however, the Boston 
customhouse was so demoralized that not even the navy could 
help. When these naval officers came ashore in Boston, their 
colleagues in the customhouse let the "Law Officers of the 
Colonies" arrest them on civil warrants for damages and then 
refused to testify that the seized goods had been smuggled. One 
ship's captain bluntly asked that "the Officers of the King's 
Ships may know what protection they are to expect from the 
Customs if they are arrested for executing their duty." A customs 
enforcement assignment, he added, "is increasingly disagreeable 
to both Captains and officers." 58 By 1773, then, even before the 
Tea Party, customs enforcement in New England was in disarray. 

The Tea Party — an event that needs no recounting here — 
resulted in the dismemberment of the Boston customhouse. Both 
the Whig leaders of the rebellion in Boston and the government 

56 Ibid., Burch, Hallowell, and Paxton to Harrison, July 9, 1771, and 
October 22, 1771. 

57 John Pownall to John Robinson, November 16, 1771, Colonial Office 
Papers, Class 5, Correspondence of the Treasury and Customs, 1771-1774, 
vol. 145, PRO. 

58 Ibid., John Montagu to John Pownall, October 26, 1772. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

at Whitehall agreed on that, although for different reasons. Stop 
importing tea, smuggled or otherwise, one Whig propagandist 
observed after the Tea Party, "and you will find the Commis- 
sioners will soon leave you; for they are a kind of eagle [vulture] 
that will be in no place longer than there is a carcase to eat." 
Whitehall's thinking behind the Intolerable Acts (which included 
the closing and blockading of the Port of Boston) followed the 
same logic: remove the source of friction (Boston harbor) and 
the irritation would disappear. Consequently, the Boston cus- 
tomhouse was actually abandoned, and its personnel reassigned 
to handle the expected increase in business at Nantucket, Ply- 
mouth, and Salem. The commissioners were ordered "to take 
with them to Salem such of the Tidesmen and incidental officers 
now employed at Boston." 59 

Only the new collector remained to provide a symbolic presence 
in the deserted customhouse. Richard Harrison reminded White- 
hall that he was there on salary alone; with the port closed, he could 
collect no fees to supplement his income. The letter he wrote to the 
Board of Trade asking for compensation for lost fees describes the 
state of things in Boston. "Your petitioner executed at the hazzard 
of his Life the Duties of his office, and although left without any 
other support ... he never quitted his station" despite the fact 
that all other customs officials, including the commissioners, "were 
oblidged to take refuge at the Castle." His records were ransacked, 
the customhouse was vandalized, and Sam Adams' Sons of Liberty 
had even "seized the boat belonging to the Customs House and 
dragged her up into the middle of the Town" as a symbol of their 
triumph. 60 

Smaller versions of the Tea Party held elsewhere in the colonies 
disrupted but did not destroy customs operations. Remarkably, the 
service hung on in most places until the final break with England. 

59 Boston Gazette, August 29, 1768; Lords of the Treasury to John 
Robinson, March 31, 1774, Colonial Office Papers, Class 5, Correspondence 
of the Treasury and Customs, 1771-1774, vol. 145, PRO. 

^Richard Harrison's petition, December 16, 1775, Treasury Records, 
Class 1, North America: Miscellaneous, 1775, Box 515, PRO. 


The Coming of the American Revolution 
Ml 5: Crushing the Colonial Customs Service 

Throughout the 1770's local American officials increasingly 
stepped in to fill the void left as Britain abdicated its colonial 
rule. Customs was often the only surviving government presence 
in a community. As we have seen, that presence was everywhere 
threatened from without and weakened from within. 

The same internal and external pressures affected customs 
officers in all the colonies. "Mr. Thomson, the collector at 
Savannah," reported Charleston Collector George Russell, "is 
now ready to Embark on account of his health for England." As 
for himself, he wrote, "I am in great trouble and uneasiness not 
knowing how to help myself as we are totally without support in 
this Province." He and his comptroller fled the city soon 
thereafter. 61 Duncan Stewart, the collector at New Haven, re- 
quested a year's leave and got it. 62 

Leaving was not always a happy answer. Trouble caught up 
with George Meserve even in the deep woods of New Hampshire. 
"Every day produces something new?' complained the former 
Boston comptroller, "and brings fresh terrors with it to the 
friends of Government." Within days of the Battle of Lexington 
in April 1775, "a party of Armed Men came into Town from the 
Country" to terrorize "obnoxious Tories, as they called them." 
They also threatened the Piscataqua customhouse. Officers there 
"Determined to defend ourselves if attacked and have ever since 
kept Watch there by turns, four at a time which is and will be 
heavy duty expences." He and his staff would stay on, promised 
Meserve, "so long as we dare abide here [and] exert our utmost 
endeavours for the Interest of the Crown and Revenue." 63 

To make matters worse, the wounded service was now 
charged with ticklish new responsibilities. Collectors were in- 

61 Ibid., George Russell to Commissioners of Customs, July 3, 1775. 

62 Entry of January 16, 1776, Minute Books, Board of Trade, Treasury 
Records, Class 29, vol. 45, p. 4, PRO. 

63 George Meserve and Robert Traill to Commissioners of Customs, May 
18, 1775, Richard Reeve to Grey Cooper, May 22, 1775, Treasury Records, 
Class 1, North America: Customs, 1775, Box 513, PRO. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

structed to watch out for arms and ammunition being smuggled 
into the colonies against the day when open war would break 
out. "To prevent further arms smuggling," New York port 
comptroller Lambert Moore reported to Whitehall, "we have 
ordered our Tidesmen on board all Vessells from Great Britain 
and have given directions to our outdoor officers carefully to 
search every Vessell that arrives from Foreign Ports." The same 
vigilance was ordered in the Bay Colony. In Boston, arms were 
being transferred from the customhouse to the Crown powder- 
house when "some people appeared and carried it off from the 
[Tide] Waiter, who had been in charge." When the acting collec- 
tor protested, he was told to look the other way, because 
"Indians" (a reference to the colonists who attended the Tea 
Party disguised as American Indians) would not mind "wreaking 
our resentment on you in a private manner." 64 

In addition to arms control, the Board of Trade also required 
customs officers in late 1775 to engage in intelligence gathering. 
"Proper officers" were to "search for and seize all Letters and 
Papers on board any ships or vessells that are cleared for any of 
the Colonies now in Rebellion against the King." As the order 
applied to all coasting vessels, the American Customs Service 
was included in this duty, too. American personnel were in- 
structed to make their seizures at the last moment before sailing 
and to maintain "secrecy" in all such operations. 65 

These additional responsibilities only complicated a dramat- 
ically deteriorating situation. As open rebellion struck one port 
after another in the course of 1775, the American Customs 
Service collapsed completely. Intimidation invariably followed 
enforcement. When a vessel owned by Philadelphia merchant 
David Campbell was seized by a tidesman early that year, 
Campbell "went in the night to the Tide Surveyor's lodging with 

^Ibid., Richard Reeve to John Robinson, January 17, 1776; Lambert 
Moore to Richard Reeve, December 22, 1774; and Richard Reeve to John 
Robinson, October 17, 1775; Massachusetts Gazette, January 16, 1775. 

65 R.E. Philips to Custom House Collectors, December 4, 1775, Treasury 
Records, Class 1, North America: Miscellaneous, 1775, Box 515, PRO. 


The Coming of the American Revolution 

Pistols and threatened to take his life" if the latter did not 
withdraw the libel. Collector Zachariah Hood complained that 
he could not have enforced the libel anyway, because there was a 
"Mob always ready" to do the merchants' bidding. 66 "An angry 
mob" assaulted Robert Byrne, the surveyor at Bohemia and 
Sassafras, Maryland, when he tried to libel a local vessel. Byrne, 
Whitehall noted, was the victim "of a violent outrage committed 
upon him in execution of his Duty ... by a daring and 
licentious Rabble." 67 

In New York City, the collector of customs decided it was 
more important to maintain the service's symbolic functions 
than its governmental ones. "The merchants in general behave 
well," collector Andrew Elliot disclosed, so long as they are 
allowed to "land at the Customs House door without a permis- 
sion." Thus goods were landed more or less legally, although no 
duties were paid. For the collector and the comptroller it was 
enough that they were "keeping open the old Channel" of 
communication. Anything more was impossible: "There are 
1900 Connecticut People [militia] Encamped within 300 yards of 
the Collector's House, and all Letters are opened that can be got 
at." Yet even this modus vivendi ultimately failed. A mob seized 
the customhouse in April 1775. "A number of armed men 
marched to the Collector's and drew up before his House in the 
road." A committee told him "not to enter [the customhouse 
again] or clear any more Vessels" or "the customs house should 
be shut up." 68 

Nor was the breakdown of operations limited to New Eng- 
land and the middle colonies. James Kitching, the collector at 
Sunbury, Georgia, libeled the schooner Lively early in 1775 for 

66 Zachariah Hood to Commissioners of Customs, March 6, April 7, 
April 29, 1775, Treasury Records, Class 1, North America: Customs, 1775, 
Box 513, PRO. 

67 Ibid., Robert Byrne to Commissioners of Customs, April 19, 1775, and 
Richard Reeve to Grey Cooper, April 19, 1775. 

68 Ibid., Andrew Elliot and Lambert Moore to Richard Reeve, April 29, 
1774, July 8, 1775; Grey Cooper to Commissioners of Customs, July 18 and 
November 7, 1775. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

running illegal weapons to the colonists. Making his seizure "by 
putting the King's broad Arrow" on the attainted crates, he 
brought the vessel into Sunbury harbor. Within hours, "Town 
inhabitants with many others from the Country were gathered 
under a Liberty Pole." A committee was formed which "sent an 
order to Isaac Antrobus [the searcher of the port stationed 
aboard the schooner] "to depart the Town in half an hour, and 
not to return till 9 the next morning." When Antrobus refused, 
20 or so colonists boarded the ship, "laid violent hands" on him, 
and "hoisted him over the side into a boat and Conducted him 
out of Town." The arms were then offloaded and added to the 
Revolutionaries' local cache. 69 

The collapse of the Customs Service even destroyed its most 
faithful servants. John Temple, quondam surveyor general of 
Customs for New England and the only member of the Ameri- 
can Board of Customs Commissioners respected by the coloni- 
als, returned to England after 15 years of duty in the New World, 
only to find himself charged with a discrepancy in his accounts. 
As all his records were either destroyed by the fighting or held by 
the rebels in America, Temple could not fight his government's 
claim, and was forced to pay the difference. It was the final 
humiliation of his career with the ill-fated customs 
establishment. 70 

What does Temple's odyssey tell us? First, that there was a 
serious and chronic gap in communications between Britain and its 
customs agents in the colonies. Second, that the Board of Trade 
and the Treasury at Whitehall operated in their own unreal world, 
with no true understanding of conditions abroad. The customs 
experience in British North America exposed these classic defects in 
imperial-colonial relations. The colonial Customs Service was, in 
the end, the lightning rod for the tensions resulting from the 
disintegration of the English governance of America. 

69 Ibid., James Kitching's Deposition, June 29, enclosed in Richard Reeve 
to Grey Cooper, August 12, 1775. 

70 Entry for January 23, 1776, Treasury Records, Class 29, Minute Books 
of the Board of Trade, January-December, 1776, vol. 45, PRO. 


Chapter II 



There was no national Customs Service in the 1780's. Weak 
central government under the Articles of Confederation, coupled 
with the assertive sovereignty of the states, ensured that each State 
would form and control its own customs organization. Efforts to 
secure a national impost bill failed, largely because of the overrid- 
ing fear, still fresh in revolutionary minds, of the power of the purse 
in the hands of a central government. From 1781 to 1789, then, 
customs would labor along as a function of the sovereign states, 
with revenue accruing to them and not to the United States. The 
states would appoint customs officers and tidesmen, collect the 
revenue, and spend it; the abortive impost bills of 1783 got fatally 
caught up in the larger issue of a national versus a federal 
union — and that debate would be resolved only in 1787 at the 
Constitutional Convention. 

This hiatus between independence and constitutional nation- 
alism eroded respect for customs enforcement, if indeed any 
remained after the wholesale abuses that characterized the 
coming of the American Revolution. State impost laws were 
indifferently and unevenly enforced. One state customs collector 
wrote incoming Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in 1789 
that "under the State government by far the greatest part of these 
Vessels found means to avoid the regulation then prescribed." 
Coasting vessels in particular, he added, "have so long trampled 


The U.S. Customs Service 

upon the revenue laws of this State (Massachusetts) with impu- 
nity that they now think they are bound by no Laws." ' 

By no means the smallest task of the new Customs Service in 
1789 was to establish its integrity and authority over a cynical 
population. The enabling legislation of July 1789, among the 
earliest laws passed by the First Congress under the new Consti- 
tution, clearly laid down the organization of the Customs 
Service. The first decade of national sovereignty also left its 
political imprint on the service: from the beginning, it had mixed 
enforcing the revenue laws with the strengthening of whatever 
political party happened to be in power. The politicization was 
perhaps inevitable, given that in these early years it was by far the 
largest agency of the new government. It was also one of the 
most visible in all the key communities of the new nation. Part 
of this visibility, which in turn heightened both the administra- 
tive clarity and political involvement of the service, was due to its 
leadership: the first roster of customs officers reads like a Who's 
Who of Continental Army veterans and civil leaders of Revolu- 
tionary state governments. Some of the visibility was due to the 
low incidence of corruption, considering the size of the service 
and the informality with which it handled its monies. 

But the largest part of Customs' visibility stemmed from its 
being the largest contributor of income to a nation struggling to 
emerge from the impoverishment forced on it by the Revolution- 
ary War and the ensuing fiscal failures of the Confederation. 
Between 1789 and 1800, the U.S. government took in $5,717,000 
in revenues. Of this $5,020,000 (88 percent!) derived from U.S. 
Customs Service income. 2 

'Cited in Leonard D. White, The Federalists: A Study in Administrative 
History, 1789-1801, 2d ed. (New York: 1965), p. 461. For information about 
the role of the impost and customs issue in the larger political context of the 
Confederation, see Richard H. Kohn, "The Inside History of the Newburgh 
Conspiracy: America and the Coup d'Etat," William and Mary Quarterly, 
Third Series, vol. XXVII (1970), pp. 204-13. For a detailed study of the first 
decade of the U.S. Customs Service, see Carl E. Prince, The Federalists and 
the Origins of the U.S. Civil Service (New York: 1977), pp. 21-132. 

2 Figures provided by Michael N. Ingrisano, Jr. of the Customs Service. 


Origins of the U.S. Customs Service 
The Customs Service Organizes, 1789 

Three laws passed in rapid succession in July 1789 laid the 
organizational foundations that would survive into the 20th 
century. The Tariff Act of July 4, 1789, and the Duties on 
Tonnage statute of July 20, together mandated a revitalized 
national Customs Service. On July 31 an act was passed 
establishing 59 customs districts in 1 1 States; 20 of these districts 
were in Massachusetts, 12 in Virginia and nine in Maryland. No 
other state claimed more than four districts, although the Port of 
New York would quickly emerge as the largest district by a wide 
margin, an edge that would grow with the passing decades. 

By 1792 the service functioned in 14 states, claiming 146 
officers and 332 subordinates; in size it far surpassed any other 
civil establishment in the new government. Officers with execu- 
tive authority included collectors, naval officers, surveyors and 
civilian masters (captains) of revenue cutters. Despite the con- 
fusing title, the naval officer was really a deputy collector and 
always a civil appointee. He was appointed with the informal 
intent both to backstop the collector in large ports and to referee 
the maintenance of fiscal integrity. Subordinate positions, in 
practice usually filled at the discretion of the collector, included 
revenue cutter crews, inspectors (still known popularly as 
tidewaiters and land waiters), gaugers, weighers, measurers and 
boatmen. Only the largest ports were served by a full comple- 
ment of officers. Medium-sized ports usually functioned with- 
out a naval officer and a cutter. Smaller ports were administered 
only by a collector, and some of the smallest only by a surveyor 
of customs. By the time the Federalist era ended in 1801, 
however, the number of subordinate employees in the 71 ports of 
entry had risen to 944, although the roster of officers had not 
increased much. 3 

J "List of Civil Officers of the United States . . . October 1, 1792, and 
Roll of the Officers, Civil, Military, and Naval of the United States [1801], 
"American State Papers, Miscellaneous: Documents, Legislative and Execu- 
tive of the Congress of the United States, Walter Lowrie and Walter S. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

The officers at the top of the service in the states exerted great 
political leverage because of their prestige and income, and 
because of the deference paid them. But their major source of 
power, especially for the collectors, derived from a more mun- 
dane source, namely, their authority to fill new positions in a 
rapidly expanding department. These officers had handsome 
salaries and fees, continued without exception to reside in their 
native communities, and were not barred from politics or 
business either by law or mores. All in all, the Customs Service 
constituted the best official reservoir for political cadre in this 
decade of its inception. The future Secretary of War in the 
Adams administration, James McHenry, was not telling Alex- 
ander Hamilton anything the latter did not already know when 
he wrote in 1792 that the collector's office "possesses vast 
influence, and ought not to be given away lightly." 4 

Several contemporary descriptions of the collector's office 
bear out this sense of its importance on the wider scenes of 
American life. Baltimore Customs Collector James McCulloch 
ably summarized the unofficial role his office afforded when he 
wrote that the collectors "must be considered as watchmen for 
the community, reporters to the government, promulgators of 
the law." 5 Josiah Quincy described the customs officer at 
Warren, Rhode Island, in 1801 as running the entire circus in 
town. He "was at once the principal village trader, its customs 
house officer, Postmaster and printer." 6 

On occasion, a collector might make ad hoc national policy 
from his customhouse, as did Baltimore's James McCulloch, 

Franklin, eds., 2 vols., (Washington, D.C.: 1834), vol. I, pp. 57-68; vol. II, 
pp. 260-319. Of the first federal officers appointed to the Customs Service, 45 
percent were incumbents of comparable state ports during the Confederation. 

4 James McHenry to Alexander Hamilton, September 30, 1792, The 
Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Harold C. Syrett, ed., 24 vols. (New York: 
1961-1976), vol. XII, p. 510. 

5 Senate Document 27, 15th Cong., 2d Sess., June 10, 1818, Annals of 
Congress, pp. 6-7. 

Josiah Quincy's Journal, Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, 
2d Series, vol. IV (1887-1889), pp. 124-25. 


Origins of the U.S. Customs Service 

who witnessed the emergence of several Latin American repub- 
lics early in the 19th century. John Quincy Adams long suspected 
McCulloch of complicity in allowing vessels to clear customs in 
order to engage in slave trading or piracy. After investigation, 
however, Treasury Secretary William H. Crawford concluded 
that McCulloch was honest but so caught up emotionally in the 
cause of these new nations that he was permitting vessels to clear 
for South America with arms for the rebels against Spanish rule. 
Obviously American neutrality was being violated at Baltimore, 
but because unofficial American sympathies lay with those 
rebels, successive U.S. administrations turned a blind eye and 
McCulloch retained his post until his death. 7 

Not every customs officer was so involved in matters of state 
as McCulloch, but certainly in the formative years of the service 
these officers exercised enormous local authority, not merely in 
administrative matters related to the collection of the revenue, 
but in the political and social life of their towns and cities as 

New England: Customs in the Life and Politics 
of the Community 

Boston remained the busiest port in America during most of 
the 1790's. The Customs Service, in disrepute everywhere as a 
result of the Revolution, was nowhere held in less esteem than in 
"the land of Cod and God." President Washington knew this 
and made an astute choice in naming Benjamin Lincoln collector 
in Boston in 1789; if anyone had the stature to restore the 
service's image, it was the former Continental Army general. As 
Secretary for War in the Confederation government, Lincoln had 

7 John Quincy Adams to James Monroe, August 2, 1820, Writings of 
John Quincy Adams, Worthington C. Ford, ed., 7 vols. (New York: 
1913-1917), vol. VII, p. 59; Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Charles Francis 
Adams, ed., 12 vols. (Philadelphia: 1874-1877), entry for June 19, 1820, vol. 
V, p. 154. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

led the troops that put down Shays' Rebellion in 1786, to the 
delight of Boston's merchant community. After ratification of 
the Constitution, he emerged as a moderate force in the complex 
configuration of Massachusetts politics. But his own bleak 
financial situation made the customs appointment a welcome 
one for the portly military figure. He quickly became an 
important confidant of both the President and the Secretary of 
the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Active in Massachusetts 
politics while in office, he publicly preached that Hamilton's 
nationalist economic program was vital "for the political salva- 
tion of this country." 8 

Lincoln presided over about 50 officers and employees, who 
represented a surprising range of social and economic diversity 
within the Boston community. That the customhouse mirrored 
the local society of which it was a part helps to explain why it 
quickly gained the confidence of a public jaded by its Revolu- 
tionary experience. Only five of the 50 could be described as 
gentry (18th-century upper class). Two of these, Ebenezer Storer 
and William Shattuck, customs inspector and weigher respec- 
tively, were merchants much reduced in circumstances at the time 
of their appointments early in the decade. By 1798, however, 

There are many secondary accounts of Benjamin Lincoln's career, but 
the best by far is that contained in Clifford Shipton, Sibley's Harvard 
Graduates, 16 vols. (Boston: 1873-1972), vol. XII, pp. 416-38. See also the 
Benjamin Lincoln-Theodore Sedgwick correspondence, 1789-1800; Jonathan 
Jackson to Lincoln, August 1, 1789, April 3, 1791; Tobias Lear to Lincoln, 
April 8, 1791; William Jackson to Lincoln, March 15, 1799, and passim, 
Benjamin Lincoln Papers (Massachusetts Historical Society); Lincoln to 
George Washington, August 13, 1789, Applications for Office Under Presi- 
dent Washington, Series VII, George Washington Papers, Library of Con- 
gress, vol. IV, and vols. VI, XVIII, XXV, passim; George Washington to 
Lincoln, August 14, 1791, The Writings of George Washington, John C. 
Fitzpatrick, ed., 39 vols. (Washington, D.C.: 1931-34), vol. XXXI, pp. 
335-36, and passim; Lincoln to Alexander Hamilton, February 16 and 
December 4, 1790, Stephen Higginson to Hamilton, August 24, 1793, The 
Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Harold C. Syrett, ed., vol. VI, pp. 268-69; 
vol. VII, pp. 196-98; vol. XV, pp. 273-76, respectively, and passim; Stephen 
Higginson to Timothy Pickering, January 12, 1800, "Letters of S. Higgin- 
son," John Franklin Jameson, ed., American Historical Association Annual 
Report, 1896 (Washington, D.C.: 1896), p. 835. 


Origins of the U. S. Customs Service 

aided by extensive fees in addition to their salaries in a busy port, 
each had been able to buy a house and to a degree restore himself 
economically and socially to a status close to the one that his 
family had enjoyed before the Revolution. 

Eight other employees who could be identified were drawn 
directly from the artisan and laboring class. Most of them were 
measurers, weighers, or gaugers of customs who worked part- 
time for fees and small salaries. The rest of the time they were 
able to pursue their respective trades in town. Several had been 
junior officers in the Continental Army. Joseph Pico and Joseph 
Spear were coopers (barrelmakers), Peter Dolliver kept a small 
shop, Hezekiah Welch was a shipwright, and Benjamin Eaton 
was a small-time distiller. The Customs Service appointments 
they enjoyed significantly increased their status in the city and 
provided them not only with social standing but also with 
comfortable margins of economic security in a precarious soci- 
ety. The changed character of the Boston customhouse in the 
1790's, as compared with the 1770's, was most evident in the fact 
that now the customs personnel remained an integral part of the 
society from which they derived and were trusted by the mer- 
chant fraternity of the town. 9 

An examination of the much smaller Massachusetts custom- 
house at Newburyport — a tiny hamlet on the rocky and forbid- 
ding coast of northern Essex County — reveals much the same 
phenomenon: Customs employees drawn from the ranks of the 
town's elite and working classes cemented a close social affinity 
between customs operations and the merchant community. But 
the political infighting around lucrative customs appointments 
could often become brutal, as it did in this home of the "codfish 

The Newburyport customhouse was, from its establishment 
in 1789, enmeshed in the party politics of the Federalist decade. 
The political turmoil began when the dominant Federalist party 

9 The Boston Directory, 1789 (Boston: 1789); United States Direct Tax of 
1798, 22d Report of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston 
(Boston: 1890). 


The U.S. Customs Service 

prevailed on Hamilton to appoint Stephen Cross collector. The 
Federalists assumed Cross to be one of their own politically, but 
he proved to be a strong supporter of Hamilton's archrival, 
Thomas Jefferson. Given the local independence of the collector, 
his control over the lower appointments in the customhouse, and 
thus his considerable political leverage, which Cross decided to 
use for the Jeffersonian cause, the Newburyport Federalists 
quickly realized their mistake and decided that Cross had to go. 

Still, Cross was a formidable local figure in Newburyport. A 
member of a well-to-do and highly respected local clan, he and 
his brother were third-generation operators of the family ship- 
building industry. That firm had built two frigates for the 
Continental Navy during the war. Stephen had also held several 
local offices during the Revolution. He was for many years 
(including his tenure as collector) a member of the Massachu- 
setts state legislature, and highly regarded by many of his fellow 

His removal by Hamilton for "misconduct" in 1792 was 
tainted by politics. Cross, whom Jefferson returned to office in 
1802, claimed that he had been dismissed for political reasons, 
and the record bears him out. None of his repeated requests to 
Hamilton for the specific instances of his misconduct were ever 
satisfactorily answered. A final demand by Cross for a full 
investigation into the nature of his misconduct was also turned 
down, yet he was neither prosecuted nor sued for recovery of 
public monies or violations of federal law, the usual procedure in 
this period for customs officials charged with fiscal misconduct. 
Cross himself claimed that he "gave Satisfaction to all [in his 
office] until Mr. Hamilton . . . thought it necessary to destroy 
[him] by obtaining his removal and disgrace." 10 

10 For the Cross family in the life of Newburyport, the views of the local 
Federalist party and the national administration in dealing with Stephen 
Cross, and the politics, background, and claims of Cross, see Leonard 
Labaree, Patriots and Partisans: the Merchants of Newburyport, 1764-1815 
(Cambridge, Mass.: 1962), pp. 140-42, 210; George Cabot to Oliver Wolcott, 
Jr., October 21, 1805, in Life and Letters of George Cabot, Henry Cabot 
Lodge, ed. (Boston: 1877), p. 328; Alexander Hamilton to George Washing- 


Origins of the U.S. Customs Service 

Edward Wiggles worth, the collector named to replace Cross 
in 1792, seemed a safer bet. In addition to his credentials as a 
Federalist, Wigglesworth was a Harvard graduate, the son of a 
Puritan clergyman, and a member of an old Newburyport 
family. Politically he was active in the Society of the Cincinnati, 
the fraternity of ex-officers of the Continental Army, in which he 
had served as a colonel. In short, his pedigree was impeccable. 

But his management of the customhouse was intolerable. His 
first official act was to dismiss Ralph Cross, Stephen's Republi- 
can brother and a weigher and gauger of customs. The irony in 
this soon became apparent, as things went downhill from there. 
Wigglesworth was accused of "poor arithmetick" in customs 
higher mathematics in 1795 and was himself removed. He 
immediately declared bankruptcy and thus avoided federal pros- 
ecution for recovery of embezzled customs receipts, although he 
did forfeit his bond. 

The third collector of the decade, Dudley Tyng, was one the 
Federalist party in town could live with, but he in turn was 
removed by Jefferson in 1802, in order to restore Stephen Cross 
to office. 11 The game of political musical chairs played by both 
Federalists and Jeffersonians in the first years of the new U.S. 
Customs Service was symptomatic of systemwide problems. In 
fact, the Customs Service was subject to a dangerous politiciza- 

ton, April 23, 1792, in The Papers of Hamilton, Syrett, ed., vol. XI, p. 331; 
Benjamin Goodhue to Washington, June 30, and July 22, 1789, Applications 
for Office Under President Washington, Series VII, George Washington 
Papers, vol. XII, Library of Congress; Theophilus Parsons to John Adams, 
July 8, 1794, in ibid., vol. XXII; Stephen Cross to Levi Lincoln, September 
20, 1802, Stephen Cross entry, Letters of Application and Recommendation 
During the Administration of Thomas Jefferson, Record Group (RG) 59, 
National Archives. 

11 For Ralph Cross, see George Cabot to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., October 
21,1801, in Life and Letters of George Cabot, Lodge, ed., p. 328. For Edward 
Wigglesworth, see Shipton, Sibley's Harvard Graduates, vol. XV, pp. 129-33. 
For Dudley Tyng, see "S.H." [Stephen Higginson] to George Cabot, June 
19,1795, in Applications for Office Under President Washington, Series VII, 
George Washington Papers, vol. XXVI, Library of Congress; and Henry 
Warren to Thomas Jefferson, November 10, 1802, Harry Warren entry, 
Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Administration of 
Thomas Jefferson, RG 59, National Archives. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

tion from its early days, as is illustrated by events in Portsmouth, 
New Hampshire. 

By the end of the Revolution, Portsmouth was a bustling 
shipbuilding town that served as the chief port of entry for the 
developing agricultural hinterland on the Vermont and New 
Hampshire frontiers. Even though most imports destined for 
northern New England came through Boston, the needs of local 
agriculture and shipbuilding ensured that Portsmouth would 
enjoy a significant coasting trade that required close supervision. 

Federalist Joseph Whipple was named the first Federal 
collector at Portsmouth. He had been a firm and important 
supporter of constitutional reform in a divided state. As late as 
1792 Whipple wrote Alexander Hamilton of his "peculiar Satis- 
faction with ... the effects of the Federal government;' add- 
ing that its salutary impact "has been amply verified in the 
administration of the department [Treasury] under which I act." 
Although the Treasury Secretary occasionally chided Whipple 
for laxity in enforcing the customs laws, by and large he extended 
to the collector a discretionary local authority that was charac- 
teristic of Hamiltonian administration. Like all collectors, 
Whipple named his own subordinates, virtually free of any 
dictates from the Federal administration. 12 

By late 1794, however, Whipple, like Stephen Cross, had 
become disenchanted with the Washington administration — and 
the politics of Alexander Hamilton, in particular — and deserted the 
Federalist party for the budding Jeffersonian Republicans. By 1798, 
Whipple had become zealously Jeffersonian. That year an embat- 
tled John Adams removed not only Whipple but most other New 

12 For Joseph Whipple's early Federal appointment and politics, see John 
Langdon to George Washington, July 19, 1789, Applications for Office 
Under President Washington, Series VII, George Washington Papers (Manu- 
script Division, Library of Congress), vol. XVII; Joseph Whipple to Alex- 
ander Hamilton, October 9, 1790; Hamilton to George Washington, July 26, 
1792; Whipple to Hamilton, October 17, 1792, in Papers of Alexander 
Hamilton, Syrett, ed., vol. VII, pp. 104-05; vol. XII, pp. 117, 588-89, 
respectively; and William Plumer to Jeremiah Smith, December 23, 1794, 
William Plumer Letterbook, William Plumer Papers, Library of Congress. 


Origins of the U.S. Customs Service 

Hampshire federal appointees for changing their politics/These 
included, in addition to Whipple, some 20 of 23 subordinate 
employees. The Portsmouth customhouse was swept clean of all 
those whom President Adams regarded as political turncoats. 13 

Adams found himself under considerable local pressure to 
clean house. A Federalist merchant, for example, inquired of the 
President "how it happens that a man of his [Whipple's] 
Character, especially his political Character, should remain so 
long in the most lucrative office in the State." It was, he 
believed, "a wonder to every Merchant here, for I suppose every 
one esteems him one of the most inveterate Jackobins in the 
United States." 14 The captain of a customs revenue cutter, 
Hopley Yeaton, was the subject of similar tirades. 15 

The barrage of complaints had its desired effect. The wheels 
of government turned quickly in 1798, and in July, Whipple and 

13 For the changeover of customs personnel at Portsmouth between 1795 
and 1800, see "List of Civil Officers of the United States . . . October 1, 
1792;' and "Roll of Officers, Civil, Military, and Naval of the United States 
[1801]," American State Papers, Miscellaneous: Documents, Legislative and 
Executive of the Congress of the United States, Walter Lowrie and Walter S. 
Franklin, eds., vol. I, pp. 60-66, and vol. II, p. -261. A comparison of the 
roster of employees circa 1792 with that of 1800 shows that an uncharacter- 
istic wholesale turnover in the lower echelons of Customs in Portsmouth had 
taken place. See also Jeremiah Smith to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., June 14, 1798, 
Jeremiah Smith entry, Letters of Application and Recommendation During 
the Administration of John Adams, General Records of the Department of 
State, Record Group 59, National Archives; and William Plumer to Jeremiah 
Smith, June 30, 1795, and April 19, 1796, in William Plumer Letterbook, 
William Plumer Papers, Library of Congress. 

14 William Plumer to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., June 8, 1798, and Eliphalet 
Ladd to Wolcott, June 15, 1798, Joseph Whipple entry, Jeremiah Smith to 
Wolcott, June 14, 1798, Jeremiah Smith entry, in Letters of Application and 
Recommendation During the Administration of John Adams, Record Group 
59, National Archives. 

15 Ibid. See also Hopley Yeaton to George Washington, December 11, 
1789, Applications for Office Under President Washington, Series VII, 
George Washington Papers, vol. XXXII, Library of Congress; Hopley Yeaton 
Petition to Thomas Jefferson, August 1, 1801, in Albert Gallatin Papers, New 
York Historical Society; John Langdon to Albert Gallatin August 6, 1802, in 
Hopley Yeaton entry, Letters of Application and Recommendation During the 
Administration of Thomas Jefferson, General Records of the Department of 
State, Record Group 59, National Archives. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Yeaton were removed from office. Within the year all but three of 
the remaining officers and employees had been fired, including 
the crew of the revenue cutter. All were replaced by reliable 
Federalist party supporters. A number of influential Federalists 
were justifiably alarmed at these obvious wholesale removals for 
political reasons. One of those who wrote Adams questioning his 
actions was Boston Customs Collector Benjamin Lincoln. Ad- 
ams replied that "when I came into office, it was my determi- 
nation to make as few removals as possible — not one from 
personal motives, not one from party considerations." But, 
Adams continued, "the representations to me of the daily 
language of several [customs] officers at Portsmouth, were so 
evincive of aversion, if not hostility, to the national Constitution 
and Government, that I could not avoid making some changes. 
Mr. Whipple is represented as very artful in imputing individual 
misfortunes to measures of administration, and his whole influ- 
ence to have been employed against the government." The 
beleaguered President concluded that "if the officers of the 
government will not support it, who will?" 16 

The inevitable end to this episode comes close to anticlimax. 
Soon after Jefferson's inauguration as President, Whipple and 
Yeaton successfully petitioned Jefferson for reinstatement. For 
the second time in three years, the Portsmouth customhouse was 
cleared, as Whipple removed all 20 Federalists named by Adams 
in 1798, with the knowledge and approval of both Jefferson and 
the new Treasury Secretary, Albert Gallatin. 17 

Events in Newburyport and Portsmouth clearly introduced a 
vicious circle of removals in the Customs Service, based on a 

16 John Adams to Benjamin Lincoln, March 10, 1800, in Mellen Cham- 
berlain Autograph Collection, Boston Public Library. 

17 "Roll of the Officers, Civil, Military and Naval of the United States 
[1801]T American State Papers, Miscellaneous, vol. II, pp. 260-319; Thomas 
Jefferson's 'Anas," March 18, 1801, The Works Of Thomas Jefferson, Paul 
L. Ford, ed. (12 vols., New York: 1904-05), vol. I, p. 363; Hopley Yeaton 
petition to Jefferson, August 1, 1801, enclosed with Joseph Whipple to 
Albert Gallatin, October 27, 1801, Microfilm Edition of the Papers of Albert 
Gallatin, Carl E. Prince, ed., 45 rolls (Philadelphia: 1970). 


Origins of the U. S. Customs Service 

singular test of political loyalty; this was a reality of party 
confrontation in the new nation. 

Two Mid- Atlantic Ports: Customs in Philadelphia 
and Baltimore 

In Philadelphia as in New England, the port's customs 
officers and employees were aggressively political. Sharp Delany, 
a holdover from the Confederation era and a strong supporter 
first of the Constitution and then of the Federalist party, was the 
first customs collector. Unlike the New England collectors, the 
chief officers in Philadelphia and Baltimore were self-made men. 
Delany was an Irish immigrant who had opened an apothecary 
shop before the Revolution. In a city of unusual ethnic and 
religious diversity, he was able to carve out for himself a 
successful political career, holding several offices and a seat in 
the Pennsylvania legislature during the 1780's. His political 
visibility notwithstanding, he barely scraped along financially, 
depending increasingly on his customs income to maintain an 
expensive lifestyle. Under extreme financial pressure, he embez- 
zled Federal revenue to the tune of at least $86,000 and was 
forced to resign in 1798. 

Delany never repaid the money, and he was not sued by the 
government. In contrast, New York City Collector John Lamb, a 
Jeffersonian who was also removed in 1798, was sued, even though 
it was his deputy who had embezzled the money in New York. 18 The 

18 For Sharp Delany, see Delany to Alexander Hamilton, February 15, 23, 
1790, and passim, in Papers of Hamilton, Syrett, ed., vol. VI, pp. 226, 275-76 
and passim; Richard Peters to George Washington, April 22, 1789, Sharp 
Delany to Washington, April 20, 1789, in Applications for Office Under 
President Washington, Series VII, George Washington Papers, vol. VIII, 
Library of Congress; and Donald H. Stewart, "The Press and Political 
Corruption during the Federalist Administrations," Political Science Quar- 
terly, vol. LXVII (1952), p. 441. 

For the circumstances of Lamb's removal, see Jonathan Burrall entry, passim, 
Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Administration of John 
Adams, General Records of the Department of State, RG 59, National Archives. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

difference in treatment of Delany and Lamb underscores the role 
politics played in customhouses everywhere in this era. 

Politics is even more evident in the career of William 
McPherson, surveyor of the Port of Philadelphia until 1793, 
when he was promoted to naval officer. McPherson was a 
military man first and foremost. A native Philadelphian, he 
accompanied his parents to England as a young man and 
accepted a commission in the British army. When the Revolution 
broke out, however, he resigned, returned to America, and 
joined the Continental Army, rising to the rank of colonel in the 
course of the war. McPherson was active after the war in the 
Society of the Cincinnati — as were so many other customs 
officers who held rank in the Revolution — and this affiliation 
launched him into politics as a supporter of the nationalist 
interest in the Confederation. He remained a Federalist through- 
out the 1790's, and predictably, that commitment was, like his 
customs appointment, harnessed to the interests of that party. 

Throughout the Federalist decade, he commanded 
"McPherson's Bluest a crack militia regiment in Philadelphia 
that was understood to be the best cavalry unit in the new nation. 
A leisurely customhouse schedule provided McPherson with 
more than $4,000 per year and the time to indulge his military 
interests. The contemporary description of "McPherson's 
Blues" as a "Federalist Military Organization" was rendered 
accurate when George Washington called on it to help suppress 
the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. In 1798, President John Adams 
appointed McPherson one of the generals of the new Provisional 
Army being raised to meet the possibility of a war with France 
over the XYZ affair. The Blues were also called into service to 
quash John Fries' anti-direct-tax insurrection in Pennsylvania a 
year later. Little wonder that Jefferson considered McPherson a 
prime target for removal after the election of 1800. 19 

19 For William McPherson, see McPherson to George Washington, 
August 5, 1789, and October 23, 1793, in Applications for Office Under 
President Washington, Series VII, George Washington Papers, vol. XIX, 
Library of Congress. See also Thomas Cooper et al. to Thomas Jefferson, 


Origins of the U.S. Customs Service 

Such strong political leadership at the top meant great 
pressures to conform down below. One who did not conform was 
Alexander Boyd, an inspector of customs and a Jeffersonian 
Republican whom Delany removed in 1797. "As soon as party 
spirit began to run high," he later wrote Jefferson, "my known 
Republican principles rendered me odious to the Collector and 
Surveyor of the port." He stepped over the line, he acknowl- 
edged, when "I dared to exercise my right openly as a freeman in 
an important election in this city. I was abruptly dismissed from 
office with no other reason assigned than that I had voted for a 
man Esteemed an Enemy to the Administration." 

This refrain became all too familiar during the first century 
of customs operations in the United States. A second Republican 
inspector, Jonas Simonds, hung onto his post by agreeing to 
abstain from all partisan activities; but his political beliefs, he 
claimed, "left me no room to hope or expect preferment, and in 
that humble station [tide-waiter] I have been left." As Simonds 
so succinctly phrased it, he was led to believe that Republicanism 
"was a great crime at the customhouse." 20 

May 23, 1801, Tench Coxe to Jefferson, June 25, 1801, and William 
Henderson and Tench Coxe entries in Letters of Application and Recommen- 
dation During the Administration of Thomas Jefferson, RG 59, National 
Archives; Extracts from the Diary of Jacob Hiltzheimer of Philadelphia, 
1765-1798, Jacob Cox Parsons, ed. (Philadelphia; 1893), pp. 147, 165; 
General Washington's Correspondence Concerning the Society of the Cincin- 
nati, George Hume ed. (Baltimore: 1941), p. 382; The Diaries of George 
Washington, 1748-1799, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed. 4 vols. (Boston: 1925), vol. 
IV, p. 217n; and John Carroll and Mary Ashworth, George Washington: First 
in Peace (New York: 1957), pp. 208n, 227, 575. See also William H. Egle, 
"The Federal Constitution of 1787: Biographical Sketches of the Members of 
the Pennsylvania Convention," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biog- 
raphy, vols. X-XI (1886-87), pp. 250-52; Directory of the City of Philadel- 
phia (Philadelphia: 1805, 1807). 

20 For Jonas Simonds, see Simonds to Thomas Jefferson, April 18, 1801, 
and Thomas Leiper to Jefferson, January 26, 1806, Jonas Simonds entry, 
Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Administration of 
Thomas Jefferson, RG 59, National Archives. 

For Alexander Boyd, see Boyd to Jefferson, March 17, 1801, Alexander 
Boyd entry, ibid. As Boyd was an innkeeper in Philadelphia, his house had 
served as an informal political headquarters for anti-Federalist delegates to 
the Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention in 1788. He had worked part-time at 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Because of their heavy political involvement, the Philadel- 
phia customs officers were only part-time operatives, who left 
much of the business to deputies. Inspector John Graff, whose 
rank was no higher than that of the tidewaiters, actually ran the 
many day-to-day operations at the Philadelphia customhouse. In 
the Philadelphia city directory, in fact, he was listed as "deputy 
collector^' even though the federal government carried no such 
job description on its books in the Federalist decade. 

Generally speaking, the unassuming Graff was an excellent 
administrator. He was uninvolved in Philadelphia party conten- 
tions, and was clearly willing to shoulder responsibility while his 
betters reaped the fees deriving from his labors. "Mr. Graff has 
been in the Execution of his office," one observer wrote, "free 
from a political or commercial partiality." Thus he served both 
Federalists and Republicans alike as the political winds shifted 
after 1800. For nearly 20 years he "chiefly conducted the 
business of the office." In many ways Graff's career implies 
much about both the political orientation and the freedom from 
duties of many high-level posts within the Customs Service in its 
initial decade. 21 

The other employees of the customhouse represented a cross 
section of Philadelphia's working class. There were four former 
seamen, two bricklayers, a cartman, a fruiterer and a silversmith. 
All were able to pursue their trades, because they worked only 
part time at the port for small salaries and sometimes fairly large 

the customhouse through most of the Confederation and thus had been kept 
on in the transition from state to federal customs control. John B. McMaster 
and Frederick D. Stone, Pennsylvania and the Federal Constitution, 
1787-1788 (Lancaster: 1888), pp. 3-4, 13, 67, 204. 

21 John Graff to George Washington, October 21, 1792, November 14, 
1793, and Sharp Delany to Washington, November 17, 1793, in Applications 
for Office Under President Washington, Series VII, George Washington 
Papers, vol. XII, Library of Congress; Peter Muhlenberg to Thomas Jeffer- 
son, August 20, 1807, in Peter Muhlenberg entry, and Samuel Emery to 
James Madison, September 17, 1807, Muhlenberg to Albert Gallatin, Sep- 
tember 26, 1806, and John Graff to Jefferson, September 28, 1807, in John 
Graff entry, Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Admin- 
istration of Thomas Jefferson, R.G. 59, National Archives; Directory of the 
City of Philadelphia, 1805, 1806. 


Origins of the U.S. Customs Service 

fees. They earned anywhere from $200 to perhaps $800 a year. 
Each owed his appointment to the steadfastness of his politics. 22 

As in most American ports, the Customs Service in Balti- 
more was a resting place for veterans of the Continental Army. 
George Washington's natural predilection was to name those 
who had "proven themselves in '76." The collector during the 
Confederation was Otho Holland Williams, who had served 
throughout the war and ended his military career as a brigadier 
general. A strong supporter of constitutional reform, he was a 
natural to be continued in his post under the new federal 
government. Although most collectors named by the Federalist 
administration in the 1790's were highly placed gentry, Williams, 
like Sharp Delany, began life in obscurity and poverty. 

Born in 1749 and orphaned while in his teens, Williams had to 
rear his six younger siblings. He apprenticed himself as a clerk to a 
merchant house for seven years, to earn both money and an 
education. In a period of social mobility, he used his native ability 
to work his way into the firm and make a small place for himself in 
pre-Revolutionary Maryland society. An early supporter of inde- 
pendence, he landed a commission in the new Continental Army 
and, again, through ability rather than preferment, rose rapidly 
through the ranks. With the return of peace in 1783, a grateful 
Maryland legislature named him Baltimore's collector of customs. 
He quickly became one of the state's leading constitutional reform- 
ers and eventually a Federalist. 23 

22 The Federalists described included John Sharp, Jacob Bunner, Isaac 
Roach, William Milnor, William Gray, William Dunton, Burgess Ball, David 
Rose, William King, George Hofner, and Lewis Bitting. A wide variety of 
sources were consulted. In general, the Directory of (he City of Philadelphia 
for 1805 and 1807, and Applications for Office Under President Washington, 
Series VII, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress, were the most 

23 For Williams's background, see Calendar of the General Otho Holland 
Williams Papers, Elizabeth Merritt, ed. (Baltimore: 1940), introduction and 
passim. See particularly Teresa Williams Davis to Otho Williams, March 
1794, and Otho Williams to Elie Williams, March 1794, pp. 330-31; James 
McHenry to Alexander Hamilton, May 3, 1791, in Papers of Alexander 
Hamilton, Syrett, ed., vol. VII, pp. 321-22; George Washington's Correspon- 
dence Concerning the Society of the Cincinnati, Hume, ed., pp. 458-59. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Otho Williams had stormy dealings with his superior in the 
government, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. The two 
shared similar backgrounds and temperaments and had served 
together in the war. The Baltimore collector was an experienced 
and thoughtful customs officer, and the new Administration 
sought his counsel as it drafted enabling legislation for the 
service in 1789. Several of Williams' suggestions found their way 
into the bill. Hamilton knew Williams to be both a person with 
good judgment and an important political figure in his commu- 
nity, but one extremely sensitive to the smallest snub, real or 
fancied. Williams' reactions to Hamilton can only be described 
as ambivalent. While writing a series of newspaper essays in 1790 
supporting Hamilton's economic program, Williams confided to 
a friend that "Hamilton's abilities are greater than the perfection 
of his plans." Yet when Hamilton expressed dismay after 
receiving one of Williams' biting letters of criticism, Williams 
wrote his father-in-law that he was "sorry the Secretary feels hurt 
but I do not see the necessity of another letter to the paper 
[lauding Hamilton] to soothe him." 24 

A pair of incidents underlined their complex relationship, 
which might best be left to a Freudian analyst. The first instance 
concerned Williams and Robert Ballard, the surveyor of customs 
at Baltimore. Williams initially recommended Ballard for the 
post in 1789, describing him as one who "uniformly acted with 
the friends of order and good government" (a euphemism for 
Federalism). Nevertheless, by 1792, tensions between the two 
threatened to disrupt Baltimore operations. Part of the falling 
out resulted from Williams' rapidly declining health, which left 
"more and more of the work of Williams' office falling on his 
deputies." Ballard complained frequently to Hamilton and 
others about the extra burden this placed on his shoulders. At 

24 Otho H. Williams to David Humphries, May 12, 1789, Applications for 
Office Under President Washington, Series VII, George Washington Papers, vol. 
V; Williams to Washington, April 18, May 12, and July 5 and 14, 1789, in ibid., 
vol. XXX, Library of Congress; Papers of Hamilton, Syrett, ed., vols. XI and 
XII, passim; Calendar of the Williams Papers, Merritt, ed., passim. 


Origins of the U.S. Customs Service 

the same time, several subordinate custom inspectors com- 
plained that Ballard, who was not properly their superior, was 
tyrannizing them. 

When Hamilton inquired about the circumstances of both 
Ballard's and the tidewaiters' complaints, Williams took his 
letter as a personal rebuke, blasted Hamilton in his response, and 
threatened to resign. Uncharacteristically, Hamilton by return 
mail apologized for any offense, adding that he had no desire to 
place Williams "in a situation to be the instrument of rigorous 
measures auxiliary to such arbitrary or oppressive conduct" as 
that of which Ballard appeared to be guilty. The Secretary added 
that the surveyor was "/>z all cases subject to the controul of the 
Collector^ as, of course, were the inspectors. Hamilton ended 
his unusually placatory letter by promising to back Williams to 
the hilt without any further investigation of Ballard's claims: 
"Nothing will be wanting on my part to give energy to the 
representation which you shall make," he wrote, signing his letter 
"with undiminished consideration and esteem." 25 

The second confrontation also involved open disrespect on 
Williams' part and a wholly uncharacteristic retreat by Hamilton 
from a showdown with a subordinate. At Otho Williams' urging, 
Hamilton in 1791 awarded to Elie Williams (Otho's brother and a 
partner in the struggling new merchant firm of Eliot and Williams) 
a contract to supply American troops in the West. The contract was 
palpably never honored; deliveries were late or never arrived at all, 

25 For indications of the wide-ranging, complex relationship between 
Williams and Hamilton, see Otho H. Williams to Alexander Hamilton, 
March 5 and April 5, 1792, Hamilton to Williams, June 9, 1792, Papers of 
Hamilton, Syrett, ed., vols. X and XI; Hamilton to Williams, March 28, 
1792, Calendar of the General Otho Holland Williams Papers, Merritt, ed., 
pp. 255-56 and passim. 

For the Ballard controversy, see Williams to George Washington, undated 
(1789), Applications for Office Under President Washington, Series VII, 
George Washington Papers, vol. XXX, Library of Congress; Hamilton to 
Williams, June 18, 1792, 2nd Williams to Hamilton, June 28, 1792 in Papers 
of Hamilton, Syrett, ed., vol. XI, pp. 601-05; Williams to Hamilton, July 27, 
1792, Hamilton to Williams, July 19 and August 14, 1792, in ibid., vol. XII, 
pp. 119-22, 46-55, 204-05, respectively. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

accounts were badly kept, and Williams' brother proved totally 
unreliable, perhaps even dishonest. Although Hamilton from time 
to time was occupied with the problems the younger Williams 
caused, the Secretary did not terminate the arrangement and even 
refrained from much overt criticism for nearly two years. But even 
that restraint pained the older brother and made him sulk. The 
collector made clear that he felt any fault lay with Hamilton and the 
government and not his brother. Again with uncharacteristic for- 
bearance, the Secretary repeatedly backed away from an open clash 
with his subordinate, ending the costly contract only after 
Williams' death. 26 

Customs and Community: Virginia 

Alexandria was one of the two major ports in Virginia at the 
time the Republic was founded. In a state that leaned toward the 
Jeffersonian Republican party (it was, after all, home to the 
Virginia dynasty of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe), the cus- 
tomhouses in Alexandria and Norfolk were strongholds of the 
Federalist party; the party in power controlled the customhouse, 
south as well as north of the Mason-Dixon line. 

Three different collectors headed the federal establishment in 
Alexandria in the 1790's: Charles Lee from 1789 to 1795, John 
Fitzgerald from 1795 to 1797, and Charles Simms thereafter. All 
three were able and politically active representatives of the com- 
monwealth's gentry who possessed unusually strong personal ties to 
the Federalist administration in Philadelphia. Each understood that 
he owed his appointment to his revolutionary service and support 
of the Federalist cause — as nationalist in the Confederation and a 
party man in the Federalist decade. They understood, too, that the 
duties of office would encroach but little on their time. 

26 For the dispute involving Elie Williams, see Otho H. Williams to 
William Smith, June 26, 1791, and Elie Williams to Otho H. Williams, 
January 23, 1794, and passim, Calendar of the General Otho Holland 
Williams Papers, Merritt, ed., pp. 242, 312, and passim. 


Origins of the U.S. Customs Service 

Charles Lee was named collector of Customs at Alexandria 
during the Revolution. By 1790, after he had gained reappoint- 
ment via the federal government, the office was producing an 
income of more than $1,000 annually and employed some 15 
subordinates. Lee was described as one of "the second-rate 
followers" of Hamilton nationally and was a member of the 
"Richmond faction" of the Federalist party. One of his brothers 
(Richard Bland Lee) was a member of Congress, and another 
(Light Horse Harry) was for a time governor of the state. 
Charles Lee practiced law in addition to collecting the customs. 
In 1795 he became Attorney General of the United States in 
Washington's second administration, and stayed on in John 
Adams' cabinet. 27 

Surveyor Samuel Hanson, the second officer of the port, 
complained to President Washington "that Lee is absent for 
most of the year," leaving the day-to-day business in the hands of 
a deputy. Nearly a decade later, when Charles Simms was about 
to leave the customhouse, it was still described as "a perfect 
sinecure, the duties being performed by a Deputy, while he 
[Simms] attends his profession as a lawyer." Yet the office 
retained its political importance. "It is impossible," a Virginia 
Jeffersonian complained, "to estimate the influence which may 
be exercised in the collection of large sums of money payable for 
customs duties in a commercial town." 28 

27 For Lee's extensive political activity, see Charles Lee to James Iredell, 
September 20, 1798, James Iredell Papers, Perkins Library, Duke University; 
Oliver Wolcott, Jr., to Fisher Ames, December 29, 1799, in Memoirs of the 
Administrations of Washington and John Adams Edited from the Papers of 
Oliver Wolcott, Secretary of the Treasury, George Gibbs, ed. (New York: 
1846), vol. II, pp. 313-15; Charles Lee to George Washington, December 27, 
1796, and Washington to Lee, December 27, 1796, in The Writings of George 
Washington, Fitzpatrick, ed., vol. XXXV, pp. 349-50; Dictionary of Amer- 
ican Biography, vol. XI, pp. 101-02; and John Carroll and Mary Ashworth, 
George Washington: First in Peace (New York, 1957), 276n. 

2 ® Alexander Hamilton to Charles Lee, January 18, 1792, and Charles Lee to 
Hamilton, January 29, 1792, The Papers of Hamilton, Syrett, ed., vol. X, pp. 
522-23n; Steven Thomson Mason et al. to Thomas Jefferson, March 3, 1804, in 
Charles Simms entry, Letters of Application and Recommendation During the 
Administration of Thomas Jefferson, Record Group 59, National Archives. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

John Fitzgerald took over in Lee's slot at the customhouse in 
1795. A physician, a member of the Virginia gentry, and a close 
friend of Washington's nephew, he had served as one of the 
President's aides during the Revolution. He owed his appoint- 
ment directly to the President's intervention, only to find that the 
job was not to his taste. 

The third collector in the decade was Charles Simms. Like 
Lee, he was a local attorney who maintained his practice while 
occupying federal office. Simms had property worth an esti- 
mated $50,000 and a law practice that brought in $2,500 per 
year, in addition to his customs salary and fees. Jeffersonians 
would later allege unfairly that Simms came into office a poor 
man and would leave it rich; while he did well as collector, he was 
already rich at the time of his appointment in 1797. A member 
of the House of Burgesses, an officer in the Virginia chapter of 
the Society of the Cincinnati, a delegate to the Virginia Ratifying 
Convention and an ex-army officer, he had all the social and 
political credentials he needed to keep the customhouse at the 
center of the Virginia political establishment. 29 

Virginia also demonstrates how common nepotism, a prob- 
lem in public life at any time, was in the early Customs Service. 
Both the relatively rigid social structure of the Old Dominion 

29 For Fitzgerald, see John Fitzgerald to George Washington, April 5, 
1793, in Applications for Office Under President Washington, Series VII, 
George Washington Papers, vol. XI, Library of Congress; George Washing- 
ton to James Craik, April 9, 1793, and Washington to Fitzgerald, April 28 
and June 3, 1793, Writings of Washington, Fitzpatrick ed., vol. XXXII, pp. 
414, 438-39, 485-86, respectively; Washington to Fitzgerald, October 8, 9, 
1793, in ibid, vol. XXXIII, pp. 114-16; Alexander Hamilton to Fitzgerald, 
June 30, 1791, Papers of Hamilton, Syrett, ed., vol. VIII, p. 516; Fitzgerald 
to Hamilton, November 21, 1791, in ibid, vol. IX, pp. 515-16. For Simms, see 
Archibald McLean to Thomas Jefferson, February 22, 1802, in Archibald 
McLean entry, Letters of Application and Recommendation During the 
Administration of Thomas Jefferson, R.G. 59, National Archives; Stevens T. 
Mason et al. to Jefferson, March 3, 1804, Thomas Ricketts to Jefferson, 
March 22, 1804, and A. Harrison to Richard Brent, March 22, 26, 1804, 
Cleon Moore entry, in ibid.; Hugh B. Grigsby, The History of the Virginia 
Federal Convention of 1788 ... 2 vols. (Richmond: 1980-91), vol. II, p. 
373; Mary G. Powell, The History of Old Alexandria, Virginia (Richmond: 
1928), pp. 259-60. 


Origins of the U.S. Customs Service 

and the plenitude of small port towns in the Chesapeake and 
Potomac areas made Virginia highly susceptible to this official 
disease. Small ports were particularly subject to this affliction. 
Nepotism in the revenue service took two forms: the passage of 
an office from one relative to another and the appointment of 
young sons to well-paying sinecures. 

There are several examples of outgoing officers passing on 
customs posts to close relatives. When Josiah Parker was elected 
to Congress, he resigned his customs post at Norfolk and 
neighboring Smithfield and succeeded in securing the latter for 
his brother Copeland, then only 20 years old. Similarly, at the 
tiny port of Dumfries on the Potomac River, Richard M. Scott, 
a local merchant and the collector of customs, having gained 
"fairly easy circumstances and wishing to retire" in 1795, 
successfully recommended his brother David for the post. 30 

Despite the administration's announced fears of inherited office 
holding, it was also possible for an officer to pass his post on to his 
son. Federalist merchant Hudson Muse, long-time collector at the 
small Potomac port of Tappahannock, continued to engage in trade 
during his tenure in office. In 1793 and 1794, he used customs 
revenue to improve his financial reverses, and left himself unable 
"to meet the [United States] Treasurer's drafts on him." Although 
Washington promptly removed him from office for what the 
administration termed a "misdemeanor," Muse was neither prose- 
cuted nor forced to make good the customs losses, not even by his 
bond. What makes the story even stranger, especially in light of 
Washington's and Hamilton's professions of public virtue, was that 

30 Josiah Parker to George Washington, May 11, 1792, William Taylor to 
Washington, May 20, 1792, and Edward Carrington to Alexander Hamilton, 
June 20, 1792, in Applications for Office Under President Washington, Series 
VII, George Washington Papers, vol. XXII, Library of Congress; William 
Lindsay to Hamilton, May 20, 1792, Papers of Hamilton, Syrett, ed., vol. XI, 
pp. 414-15; Charles Lee to George Washington, July 3, 1789, Richard Henry 
Lee to Washington, July 27, 1789, Richard Bland Lee to Washington, July 28, 
1790, in Applications for Office Under President Washington, Series VII, 
George Washington Papers, vol. XVII, Library of Congress; Bushrod Wash- 
ington to George Washington, March 19, 1789, Richard M. Scott to 
Washington, June 15, 1789, October 16, 1795, in ibid., vol. XXV. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

the Treasury Secretary and the President promptly appointed 
Hudson Muse's son Laurence to the collector's post and accepted 
transfer of the unencumbered bond from father to son. This 
happened even though the younger Muse, who had for several years 
served as his father's deputy in the federal service and was a junior 
partner in the family's merchant firm, could hardly have been 
unaware of what had been happening to the federal revenue 
collected at Tappahannock. But Laurence Muse was a member of 
the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1794, and both father and son 
were highly respected local Federalists. 31 

Two other collectors are known to have passed on offices to 
their sons in Virginia. When Jacob Wray retired at Hampton, 
opposite Norfolk at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, George 
Wray succeeded to the collector's post. Zachariah Rowland, a 
prominent merchant in Richmond, was named collector in that 
town in 1790. He retired in 1796 on condition that his son James 
be named to succeed him, despite the fact that the latter was only 
21 years old. 32 

Other relatives of highly placed Virginians also did well. Even 
President Washington, who repeatedly denounced nepotism 
and favoritism in granting offices 33 appointed several of 

31 For the Muses, see ibid, "A List of Persons who . . . Requested to be 
Recommended to the President . . . for Appointment" undated (1789), vol. 
IV; Samuel Griffin to Washington, undated (1789), vol. XIII; Hudson Muse 

to Washington, March 20, 1789, February 1, 1794, to James 

Monroe, February 3, 1794, vol. XX; George W. Smith to Washington, 
February 4, 1794, vol. XXVI; and The Letters and Papers of Edmund 
Pendleton, 1734-1803, David J. Mays, ed., 2 vols. (Charlottesville, Va.: 
1967), vol. II, p. 459. 

For the Wrays, see Samuel Griffin to George Washington, undated 
(1789), in Applications for Office Under President Washington, Series VII, 
George Washington Papers, vol. XIII, Library of Congress; Jacob Wray to 
Washington, May 12, 1790, and Samuel Griffin to Washington, April 24, 
1790, ibid., vol. XXXI. 

For the Rowlands, see Zachariah Rowland to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., 
November 6, 1797, in James Rowland entry, Letters of Application and 
Recommendation During the administration of John Adams, RG 59, 
Records of the Department of State, National Archives. 

33 "My political conduct in nominations," the President wrote in July 
1789, "even if I was uninfluenced by principle, must be exceedingly circum- 


Origins of the U.S. Customs Service 

Martha's relatives to federal posts shortly before he left 
office. 34 

Customs and Community: North Carolina 

Like Virginia, North Carolina claimed an extraordinary 
number of small ports that needed watching if the revenue laws 
were to be enforced. In some ways, with its rippled coastline, 
North Carolina was reminiscent of Massachusetts, but in min- 
iature. There were an unusually large number of ports for a 
sparsely populated state, so none of them handled the kind of 
volume found in harbors to the north. But the sheer number of 
anchorages created important local jobs for 21 customs officers 
in 1790, with at least as many more subordinate positions created 
as well. 35 The most important of the 19 North Carolina ports 
were Edenton and Camden on Albemarle Sound at the northern 
end of North Carolina's irregular coastline; Washington and 

spect and proof against just criticism, for the eyes of Argus are upon me, and 
no slip will pass unnoticed that can be improved into a supposed partiality for 
friends or relatives." Indeed, within a week of assuming the Presidency, he 
had written that "I will, to the best of my judgement, discharge the duties of 
that office with that impartiality and zeal for the public good, which ought 
never to suffer connections of blood or friendship to intermingle, so as to 
have the least sway on decisions of a public nature." And 2 weeks later, on 
March 21, 1789, he added: "I know in my own heart, I would not be in the 
remotest degree influenced in making nominations by motives arising from 
ties of amity or blood." George Washington to Benjamin Harrison, March 9, 
1789, Washington to Samuel Vaughan, March 21, 1789, and Washington to 
Bushrod Washington, July 27, 1789, Writings of Washington, Fitzpatrick, 
ed., vol. XXX, pp. 224, 238, 366, respectively. 

34 "List of Civil Officers of the United States . . . October 1, 1792;" A List 
of the Officers Employed in the Collection of the Internal Revenues of the United 
States . . . July 1796',' and "Roll of the Officers, Civil, Military, and Naval of 
the United States [1801]" in American State Papers, Miscellaneous, Lowrie and 
Franklin, eds., vol. I, pp. 57-68, 568-73, and vol. II, pp. 260-319, respectively; 
William Lewis to George Washington, October 22, 1791, in Applications for 
Office Under President Washington, Series VII, George Washington Papers, vol. 
XVII, Library of Congress; Tench Coxe to Alexander Hamilton, October 31, 
1792, in Papers of Hamilton, Syrett, ed., vol. XII, p. 635. 

35 "List of the Civil Officers of the United States ... For the Year 
Ending October 1, 1792, "American State Papers, Miscellaneous, Lowrie and 
Franklin, eds., vol. I, pp. 57-68. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

New Bern off Pamlico Sound; and Wilmington, the largest port 
in the State, in the Cape Fear region. 

Albemarle Sound formed one of the state's three distinct 
customs districts. The region was dotted with several small ports, 
most of them satellites of the central harbor at Edenton, where 
a customs collector presided. He directed the service for almost 
the entire area and used his surveyors to oversee several smaller 
anchorages, including Hertford, Plymouth, Winton, and Mur- 
freesboro. Another collector ran the Customs Service at Cam- 
den, and other tiny ports in the immediate vicinity. Albemarle's 
geographic oddity resulted in the wide dispersal of customs 
personnel and created a difficult customs situation. 

Official laxity rendered Albemarle a managerial horror. 
Solitary surveyors of customs in remote backwaters were often 
slow in reporting and transmitting money they collected. Absen- 
teeism was widely tolerated in an area where kinship and 
personal ties prevailed over official responsibility. Thomas D. 
Freeman, the surveyor at Plymouth, ruled in such splendid 
isolation that it took six months for Thomas Benbury, the 
Edenton collector and Freeman's immediate superior, to learn 
that the latter had moved away in February 1792, leaving the port 
unattended. It took another two months for the federal admin- 
istration to dismiss Freeman for his "prolonged absence." 36 

The odyssey of Laurence Mooney, the surveyor of Winton in 
1795, was even more improbable. The Irish-born Mooney ap- 
parently became homesick shortly after his appointment in 1795 
and returned to Ireland for five years. Nobody officially missed 
him, and in 1800 he resumed his duties as if he had never been 
away. The story was so fantastic that some years later Treasury 
Secretary Albert Gallatin went to the trouble to verify it as a 
vintage example of early maladministration. 37 

36 Tench Coxe to Thomas Benbury, July 13, 1792, and Alexander Hamil- 
ton to George Washington, September 17, 1792, in Papers of Hamilton, 
Syrett, ed., vol. XI, p. 29, and vol. XII, p. 392, respectively. 

37 Albert Gallatin's note, undated (1808), in Laurence Mooney entry, 
Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Administration of 


Origins of the U. S. Customs Service 

In the Albemarle area, nepotism was as much a problem as 
administrative dereliction; the two were probably closely related. 
In 1793 Samuel Tredwell replaced the deceased Thomas Benbury 
as customs collector at Edenton and assumed the central admin- 
istrative position in the region. Although Tredwell was extremely 
young and inexperienced at the time of his nomination, he was 
a scion of a well-known local family, and, most important, he 
was also a nephew of Federalist U.S. Senator Samuel Johnston. 38 
The Tredwell nomination was not unique. The surveyor of 
customs at Hertford was Joshua Skinner, Jr., a nephew of 
William Skinner, the treasurer of North Carolina in the 1780's, 
U.S. Commissioner of Loans for the State in the 1790's, and a 
ranking Federalist. Another relative, Steven Skinner, was the 
surveyor at Edenton; all were part of an extended political family 
in Albemarle. 39 

Close ties to the Federalist party and extended nepotism in 
the Customs Service were not peculiar to Albemarle. At the Port 
of Washington in the Pamlico Sound area, a single family 
monopolized the federal offices. Nathan Keais and his sons were 
merchants and storekeepers who were deeply involved in both 
commerce and land speculations. The elder Keais was named 
collector in 1790 despite the fact that, as collector under State 
auspices during the Confederation, he was still in arrears for 
customhouse receipts. When Nathan died in 1795, his son 
William Keais succeeded to the collector's job. John L. Keais, 

Thomas Jefferson, RG 59, National Archives; Samuel Tredwell to Alexander 
Hamilton, January 15, 1795, Applications for Office Under President 
Washington, Series VII, George Washington Papers, vol. XX, Library of 

r8 Gabriel Phillips to Thomas Jefferson, October 18, 1801, in Michael 
Payne entry, Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Admin- 
istration of Thomas Jefferson, RG 59, National Archives. 

39 Hugh Williamson to George Washington, March 22, 1790, and John 
Skinner to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., January 27, 1798, in Applications for Office 
Under President Washington, Series VII, George Washington Papers, vol. 
XXV, Library of Congress. The second letter cited above was filed mistakenly 
with the George Washington Papers rather than those of the Adams admin- 
istration, apparently because the date on the letter is unclear. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

William's brother, was the port's weigher and gauger of 
customs. 40 

There is no question that both the relatively scattered popu- 
lation of the indented Carolina coast and the strong clannishness 
of its people accounted for the inbred nature of North Carolina's 
Customs Service. President Jefferson took note of this problem 
when he took office in 1801, intending to do something about it, 
but he never did. Instead, the first Democratic-Republican 
President usually exchanged one political clan for another more 
friendly to his administration, ridding the Customs Service of 
Federalists only to replace them with Republicans. As the next 
section details, Jefferson's Presidency confirmed and sustained 
the Federalist practice of applying a political test to customs 

Turning Out the Federalists 

In what Henry Adams called "the revolution of 1800," 
Thomas Jefferson turned the Federalists out of the new White 
House; in 1801, he began to shoo them out of the customhouses 
as well. Jefferson removed 50 of the 146 customs appointments 
subject to Presidential review, dropping all but one of the 
officers in the Ports of New York and Philadelphia and firing all 
five New Jersey port collectors. In New England, too, Ports- 
mouth, New Hampshire, was swept clean; the collectors at New 
Haven and Middletown, Connecticut, went; and 10 customs 
officers in Massachusetts were removed. Nor did the South 

^William Blount to John Gray Blount, January 31, 1790, John Hay- 
wood to John Gray Blount, March 18, 1790, Thomas Blount to John Gray 
Blount, February 6, 1795, October 19, 1795, in The John Gray Blount 
Papers, Alice B. Keith, ed., 2 vols. (Raleigh, N.C.: 1959), vol. II; Nathan 
Keais to George Washington, January 2, 1790, in Applications for Office 
Under President Washington, Series VII, George Washington Papers, vol. 
XVI, Library of Congress; William Kennedy to Thomas Jefferson, October 
27, 1808, in W.J. Sheppard entry, and William Blackledge to Albert Gallatin, 
November 11, 1801, in William Orr entry, Letters of Application and 
Recommendation During the Administration of Thomas Jefferson, RG 59, 
National Archives. 


Origins of the U.S. Customs Service 

escape. Four Maryland collectors and six Virginians went. 
Inevitably, lesser officials, including about 270 tidesmen, lost 
their jobs, as new collectors cleaned their houses and restaffed 
them with men who shared their political persuasion. The 
"exterminating system;' as one bitter Federalist partisan called 
it, confirmed the politicization of the Customs Service begun 
under the Federalists, and fixed the cycle of removals and 
appointments each time a new party took over in Washington 
during the course of the 19th century. 41 

Sometimes the removals in Jefferson's administration were 
openly political, other times they were more subtle. Alexander 
Freeland and Joseph Tucker were removed for alcoholism, but in 
retrospect their derelictions, if any, were more political than 
alcoholic. Alexander Freeland, the collector at Great Egg Har- 
bor, New Jersey, had "taken to excessive hard drink," it was 
reported, "and is frequently intoxicated." Another complaint 
about him, however, is more illuminating. Recounting Freeland's 
deep involvement in local Federalist politics, a New Jersey 
Jeffersonian wrote the President in 1803 that the collector's 
removal "will be highly recommendable [to] ... the Republi- 
cans of the County at Large ... at this critical time in 
consequence of the approaching election." Jefferson replaced 
him without further investigation. 42 

Joseph Tucker's removal for drunkenness is even more sus- 
pect. The collector at York, Maine, the Jefferson administration 
learned, was "constantly drunk and incapable of business"; he 
was also described as a "violent federalist." Tucker was turned 
out. The town of York immediately convened a town meeting 
and voted 106 to both to refute the allegation and to support 

41 See Carl E. Prince, "The Passing of the Aristocracy: Jefferson's 
Removal of the Federalists, 1801-1805T Journal of American History, vol. 
LVII (1970), p. 570. 

42 Benjamin B. Cooper to Thomas Jefferson, September 7, 1803, in 
Joseph Winner entry, Letters of Application and Recommendation During 
the Administration of Thomas Jefferson, RG 59, National Archives; John 
Holmes et al. to Jefferson, December 14, 1803, in Alexander Freeland entry, 
in ibid. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Tucker's appeal for restoration of his office. Every selectman in 
town joined the citizens in signing a petition to the President, 
which concluded by pointing out that Tucker "has held every 
office in the Town of which he would accept." Although the 
signers included as many Jeffersonian Republicans as Federal- 
ists, the removal stuck. 43 

In other instances the terminations were overtly political. 
Edward Pope, the collector at New Bedford, Massachusetts, 
presided over an apparently unrestrained cadre of Federalists in 
his customhouse. The collector continued to run a general store 
on the waterfront and was a judge on the county court of 
common pleas while in office. Pope, like many other collectors, 
left most of the routine duties to his deputies; for this he was 
charged with "inattention to the duties of office." His real 
crime, however, was that, at a public meeting during the heated 
election of 1800, Pope was said to have described Jefferson as "a 
man of infamous character, a man of no religion and who wishes 
the destruction of all religion, and all good government." 
Needless to say, there was no way he could keep his office after 
Jefferson's election. 44 

Southern collectors suffered similar fates, occasionally on a 
wholesale level, if the Sawyer clan is any indication. The Sawyers 
monopolized customs appointments in the Albemarle region of 
North Carolina. The family owned a schooner engaged in the 
West Indian trade from Albemarle ports, possessed a "consid- 
erable inheritance;' and were also "gentleman planters." Deeply 
involved in local Federalist politics, four brothers were rewarded 

43 Moses Lyman et al. to Jefferson, January 18, 1803, Joseph Tucker 
entry, in ibid; Richard Cutts to Jefferson, November 25, 1802, Samuel Derby 
entry, in ibid. 

44 Only some of the petitions demanding Edward Pope's removal and 
describing his political activities survive. See ibid, Josiah Dean to Samuel Bishop, 
January 18, 1804, Dean et al. to Albert Gallatin, August 27, 1805, and Dean to 
Thomas Jefferson, July 7, 1808, in Isaiah Weston entry, and John Nye to 
Jefferson, November 28, 1804, Abraham Wardwell et al. to Jefferson, December 
19, 1804, in an Anonymous entry, Jacob Hafford's Deposition, July 4, 1808, 
Nathaniel Howland entry. Daniel Ricketson, The History of New Bedford, 
Massachusetts (New Bedford: 1858), pp. 206-07, 293, 332. 


Origins of the U.S. Customs Service 

with customs jobs by the Washington and Adams administra- 
tions. Enoch Sawyer was the collector at Camden; his three 
brothers, Frederick, M.E., and Edmund, were surveyors of 
Newbiggen Creek, Camden, and the Pasquotank River port of 
entry. Their appointments ensured their political loyalty and 
probably did not hurt business either. Jefferson relieved them all 
of their posts during his first term. 45 

Those collectors who survived the change of administrations 
usually had to accept new rules reflecting the change in party 
more than any easing in political criteria for office holders. 
Obvious Federalists were usually kept on only because their 
service in the Continental Army made it difficult to justify their 
removal on any grounds. This was true of both James Simons in 
Charleston and Benjamin Lincoln at Boston. Simons was an 
able and engaging figure. He fought with the Continental Army 
all through the Revolution, rising through the ranks to major. 
Even Jeffersonian U.S. Senator Pierce Butler was willing to 
recommend his appointment to Washington in 1795, noting that 
"when they [the other applicants] were writing in Mercantile 
Houses, he [Simons] was fighting for his Country and freely 
shedding his blood for her." After the war, Simons became a 
merchant, but, given the economic difficulties of the Confeder- 
ation, he never had much success. Consequently, his appoint- 
ment as the naval officer in 1795 and promotion to collector two 
years later were most welcome. Simons put the Charleston 
customhouse back on firm footing after a series of demoralizing 
embezzlements by his predecessor, Isaac Holmes, had left that 
establishment in a shambles. 

45 Hugh Williamson to George Washington, February 5, 1790, in Appli- 
cations for Office Under President Washington, Series VII, George Washing- 
ton Papers, vol. XXX, Library of Congress; William F. Muse to Charles 
Johnson, October 17, 1801, James L. Shannonhouse entry, in Letters of 
Application and Recommendation During the Administration of Thomas 
Jefferson, RG 59, National Archives; The Papers of Archibald D. Murphey, 
William H. Hoyt, ed., 2 vols., (Raleigh, N.C.: 1914), vol. I, p. 336n; and 
Jesse F. Pugh, A Biographical History of Camden County (Old Trap, N.C.: 
1957), pp. 92-97, 129-32. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

But Simons was also deeply involved in South Carolina 
politics and had no compunction about using the customhouse 
for all it was worth politically. When, after the change of 
administration in 1801, he was accused of compelling his 
subordinates to work for John Adams' election, Simons as much 
as admitted it. "I did not know of any officer in the Customs 
appointed by me'' he wrote to the Comptroller of the Treasury, 
"who was averse to Mr. Adams election and consequently no 
occasion presented itself to use compulsory measures." Clearly, 
as one critic noted, it was true that the Charleston customhouse 
nested "a little army" of Federalists. 

From the outset, the Jefferson administration was in a 
quandary about how to handle Simons. Although Treasury 
Secretary Albert Gallatin described Simons as a "violent feder- 
alist'' Gallatin also knew him to be "an excellent officer." 
Gallatin soon found a solution he would apply elsewhere. 
Simons acknowledged that in 1800 he had openly "supported 
Mr. Adams election which I did as well from a just sense of 
Services as from personal gratitude for the benefit he conferred 
on me and my large family by the beneficent office to which he 
appointed me." However, in writing to Gallatin, Simons agreed 
that he would dissociate himself from politics if he could keep 
his post. He also agreed to pass out any vacancies in the customs 
ranks to Republicans as the openings occurred. 46 A consummate 

46 For James Simons, see Samuel Smith to John Rutledge, May 12, 1801, 
and James Simons to Rutledge, June 2, 1801, in the John Rutledge Papers 
Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina Library; James 
Simons to Pierce Butler, February 25, 1795, Butler to George Washington, 
March 15, 1794 [1795], James Simons to Edmund Randolph, May 20, 1795, 
Jacob Read to Randolph, May 20, 1795, and Butler to Randolph, May 20, 
1795, in Applications for Office Under President Washington, Series VII, 
George Washington Papers, vol. XXX, Library of Congress; Albert Gallatin's 
note on James Simons folder [1801], Anonymous to Thomas Jefferson, 
November 23, 1801, James Simons to John Steele, September 30, 1802, 
James Symonds [Simons] entry, Albert Gallatin's note filed with Daniel 
D'Oyley to Gallatin, July 29,1801, Daniel D'Oyley entry, Letters of Appli- 
cation and Recommendation During the Administration of Thomas Jeffer- 
son, RG 59, National Archives; Papers of Hamilton, Syrett, ed., vol. X, p. 
432n; James Simons to John Steele, December 15, 1802, Papers of John 


Origins of the U.S. Customs Service 

politician, the new Secretary of the Treasury found a way to 
assuage the local Jeffersonian interest in Charleston even as he 
avoided offending those who valued both Simons' integrity and 
wartime service. 

The same compromise worked in Boston. Benjamin Lincoln, 
like Simons, was forced to produce a mea culpa in writing. "If 
any of you," the collector wrote his subordinates in the custom- 
house in 1802, "vilified the Chief Magistrate of the Union in 
terms rude and indecent ... I have to ask that you will in 
future recollect that there is an infinite difference between Right 
and propriety of exercising that Right." He would, he added, fill 
all vacancies with Jeffersonians. 47 

By the time Jefferson left office 20 years after ratification of 
the Constitution, the U.S. Customs Service had been thoroughly 
politicized by both parties. Perhaps this was inevitable, given 
both the size of the Service and its extraordinarily visible local 
role in one American community after another. Although it may 
seem odd to 20th-century observers, the Customs Service func- 
tioned well at both levels: politically in the service of the party in 
power, and administratively in the implementation of national 
policy, as both the embargo and nullification controversies, 
described in the next chapter, make clear. 

Steele, Henry M. Wagstaff, ed., 2 vols. (Chapel Hill, N.C.: 1924), vol. I, 
pp. 340-41; George C. Rogers, Jr., Evolution of a Federalist: William 
Loughton Smith of Charleston, 1758-1812 (Columbia, S.C.: 1962), pp. 186, 
188, 192, 344, 347, 364; and George C. Rogers, Jr., Charleston in the Age of 
the Pinckneys (Norman, Okla.: 1969), p. 118. 

47 Petition to James Madison [undated 1801], and passim, Benjamin 
Lincoln entry, Letters of Application and Recommendation During the 
Administration of Thomas Jefferson, RG 59, National Archives; and Ship- 
ton, Sibley's Harvard Graduates, vol. XII, p. 437. 


Chapter III 


As the nation grew, so did its foreign trade. A changing tariff 
policy and a rapidly expanding Customs Service accompanied 
this growth. Two widely different events in early national 
America made the fledgling Customs Service the instrument of 
Presidential action and national policy. Jefferson's embargo on 
trade with Britain in 1807 and Jackson's effort to undo South 
Carolina's nullification of the Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 pushed 
the agency off its exclusively economic course and plunged it ever 
deeper into the national political maelstrom. 

Political Policy and Administrative and Economic Change 

On June 22, 1807, the British ship Leopard fired on the U.S. 
frigate Chesapeake, damaging it badly. The attack ignited the 
smoldering commercial and military tensions over America's 
efforts to bypass the British blockade of Napoleonic Europe and 
to expand U.S. trade with France. President Jefferson stopped 
short of asking it for a declaration of war with Britain and 
instead pressed Congress to pass the Embargo Act. This imper- 
fect measure, signed on December 22, 1807, and scarcely 
improved by three successive amending acts in the next 18 
months, was designed to keep this country out of war and yet 
punish Britain by cutting off all trade with the United States. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

The act had the unintended result of exacerbating regional 
and political tensions in the country. A coalition of Republican 
legislators from the mainly agricultural southern and western 
states rallied behind the President and his embargo, whereas the 
New England Federalists, whose economic health depended on 
overseas trade, opposed it bitterly. Jefferson's patriotic gesture 
became a political cause, and it remained so for the next several 

A quarter-century later, Jackson's monumental victory in the 
Presidential election of 1832 turned in part on his exploitation of 
the still-festering foreign trade issue. Passage of a new, clearly 
protective, tariff that year completed the evolution of a national 
policy that fostered northern and western industrialization 
mainly at the expense of a southern agrarian economy resting on 
cotton and slavery. South Carolina's angry nullification of the 
Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 forced Jackson's hand and allowed him 
to use his dynamic concept of strong Presidential executive 

Both Jefferson and Jackson called on the Customs Service to 
help implement executive and legislative action, and the agency 
grew to meet these new demands. America's economic policy 
also called for more customs personnel, from collectors to 
boatmen. The successive protective tariffs in 1816, 1824, 1828, 
and 1832 together mandated a strengthening of customs opera- 
tions, not only in Atlantic port cities, but also along the 
Canadian and Florida borders and within the river system of the 
growing West. 

For one thing, these tariffs meant generally higher costs for 
foreign imports and much higher duties on certain specific items. 
Smuggling, always a great American pastime, became more 
lucrative, as import duties increased to an average exceeding 20 
percent of value in 1816 and 30 percent in 1828. At the same 
time, day-to-day operations in customhouses along the entire 
Atlantic coast became more complicated; for example, the law 
called for item-by-item cargo clearances, and these required more 
staff. The inevitable result was that the size of the agency soared 


Embargo and Nullification 

as well. The number of customs personnel in the port cities grew 
from about 1,100 in 1801 to over 2,100 by 1816, and to more 
than 4,000 as of 1831. 1 Controlled growth was out of the 
question. Jefferson's and Jackson's confrontational national 
policies placed Customs center stage in the political arena. The 
extension of an appointive system based on political allegiance 
(culminating in Jackson's "spoils system") made rational devel- 
opment of the service an impossibility. Like Topsy, the U.S. 
Customs Service in the early national era "just growed." 

The Treasury Department paid scant attention to controlling 
this expansion for two reasons: First, the Jeffersonians were 
frugal, even cheap, and rejected almost any reform that required 
systematic appropriations for new positions; Jefferson's nonpol- 
icy was to permit additional customs staff only when exigencies 
of the moment demanded. Second, Albert Gallatin, Jefferson's 
and Madison's Treasury Secretary from 1801 to 1817, was an 
energetic administrator who operated very personally. He main- 
tained close relationships with subordinates and mastered details 
that would have daunted less efficient administrators. Things 
worked well while he was in charge, but no real administrative 
system worthy of the name was introduced. Under these condi- 
tions, growth was chaotic — but growth there was. Growing 
urban populations in the Northeast forced recruitment of an 
ever-larger army of tidewaiters in the Atlantic ports. A booming 
West created new ports of call. In a nutshell, if ever administra- 
tive reform was needed, it was during and after the embargo era; 
its absence was evident in 1816, when the first protective tariff 
became law just as Gallatin was leaving office. Much of his 
system and the knowledge to make it work departed with him, 
just as protection became basic American policy. 

Yet no reform occurred. Instead, a new Jeffersonian Repub- 
lican administration under James Monroe called for retrench- 
ment in Washington. Looking for ways to reduce a national debt 

Statistical data are derived from U.S. Department of Commerce, 
Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1957 (Washing- 
ton, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1957), p. 710. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

that had doubled to $99 million after the War of 1812, the Senate 
asked the Treasury Department for a list of "useless officers of 
customs." The resulting Senate investigations centered mainly 
on the elimination of many small ports of entry — a "reform" 
supported by many collectors in large ports, because these small 
customs outposts drew off volume and fees from larger neigh- 
boring harbors. 

The collector at Norfolk, Virginia, for example, noted, "I 
have very long entertained the opinion. . . that we have, by far, 
too many collection districts " concluding that they offered "very 
great facilities for smuggling." He cited the port of Folly's 
Landing, Virginia, as a prime example, but did not say how 
elimination of even the nominal customs supervision there would 
help prevent smuggling rather than encourage it. The collector at 
Baltimore suggested that the proliferation of small ports was in 
part the result of congressional efforts to serve "the accommo- 
dation of their neighborhood and counties." 2 Politics as usual, 
perhaps. But the Embargo of 1807 was anything but that. 

The Embargo of 1807: The First Phase 

Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin understood just how 
weakly drawn the first Embargo Act really was. For example, it 
failed to articulate clear penalties for violation and did not 
regulate the Atlantic coasting trade. In a circular letter to 
collectors issued the same day the first Embargo Act was passed, 
December 22, 1807, Gallatin forbade all departures of American 
vessels destined for foreign ports; although the law required 
bonds for coasting, the Secretary anticipated that collectors 
might have trouble distinguishing between vessels legitimately 
plying the American seaboard and those seeking to evade the 
new law. Gallatin also warned the President that collectors must 

2 Senate Document 188, 15th Cong., 1st Sess. (April 15, 1818, and Senate 
Document 27, 15th Cong., 2d Sess. (December 2, 1818), both in Annals of 


Embargo and Nullification 

"depend on physical force to detain vessels, and there are many 
ports where we have neither the revenue cutters nor perhaps more 
than one single officer." 3 

Baltimore Customs Collector Gabriel Christie quickly con- 
firmed Gallatin's misgivings. Within days of the act's passage, 
Christie reported that merchants were evading the law "by 
putting of some other person in the Command [of a vessel] than 
the one to whom the permission [to sail on a coasting run] may 
have been granted." The new master, he pointed out, claims 
ignorance of restrictions. He also suggested to the Treasury 
Secretary that no vessel over 50 tons should be cleared for 
coasting, even though this ruled out clearances of a significant 
portion of America's overseas fleet. Gallatin admitted to 
Christie that he "perceived the defects of the embargo act as 
soon as it was published," and suggested that collectors might 
take it upon themselves to deny coasting papers — a solution that 
placed the burden of judgment, as usual, squarely on the 
collector. Christie replied that no collector could stand up to the 
local pressure that would follow the use of so much discretionary 
power, so that the suggestion from Treasury was just empty 
advice. 4 The 50-ton rule went into effect, difficulties notwith- 

Other problems became apparent as well. Merchants em- 
ployed vessels with foreign registry, a practice that Jefferson 
deplored as "fraudulent conversions." Within a week Gallatin 
fired off another circular notifying collectors that "no American 
vessels purchased by foreigners subsequent to the Embargo, can 
be considered as excepted from the operation of the Act." The 
next day, on December 29, 1807, Gallatin ordered Christie to 

3 Albert Gallatin to Thomas Jefferson, December 22, 1807, Gallatin to 
Collectors of Customs, December 22, 1807, Microfilm Edition of the Papers 
of Albert Gallatin, Carl E. Prince, ed. (Philadelphia: 1970), roll 15; Gallatin 
to Jefferson, December 23, 1807, Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Library of 

^Gabriel Christie to Albert Gallatin, December 24, 1807, and Gallatin to 
Christie, December 28, 1807, Microfilm Edition of the Papers of Albert 
Gallatin, Prince, ed., roll 15. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

seize a Portuguese vessel on the ground that its captain was an 
American citizen. He accused the captain of a "fraudulent 
attempt" to take advantage of his dual citizenship and ordered 
the vessel impounded and the captain's American papers seized. 5 
Gallatin's perspicacity extended only so far, however. Despite 
the pending crisis in customs enforcement, politics still filled 
jobs in the customhouse. For example, within two weeks of the 
passage of the Embargo Act, Gabriel Christie fell seriously ill 
and was unable to oversee customs operations in Baltimore. His 
deputy, John Brice, became acting collector, conducting his 
office in this most difficult time with energy and ability and 
proving to be "one of the most dedicated members of the 
customs service." After Christie died, however, Brice, a Feder- 
alist, was passed over as his successor in favor of an inexperi- 
enced Jeffersonian Republican. 6 No disaster, it seemed, was 
justification for ignoring political ritual. 

The Embargo: 
Enforcement on the Canadian and Florida Borders 

During the first weeks of the embargo, Gallatin was deluged 
with angry letters from his collectors. Officers from Boston to 
Baltimore complained that their customhouses were not pre- 
pared to enforce the law and warned of serious disruptions to 
both the collection of the revenue and the operation of the 
service. 7 The first hint of massive enforcement problems came 

5 Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, December 29, 1807, Papers of 
Thomas Jefferson, Library of Congress; Gallatin to Gabriel Christie, Decem- 
ber 28, 29, 1807, "Letters Sent by the Secretary of the Treasury to Collectors 
of Customs at All Ports," Microfilm Publications #175, roll 1, Record Group 
56, National Archives. 

6 See Richard J. Mannix, "The Embargo: Its Administration, Impact and 
Enforcement;' Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1975, p. 110. 

7 For a sampling of collectors' reactions to the law, see John Barnes to 
Albert Gallatin, December 23, 1807, Benjamin Lincoln to Gallatin, Decem- 
ber 23, 1807, and January 7, 1808, Gallatin to David Gelston, December 30, 
1807, Gallatin to Allen McLane, December 30, 1807, John Shee to Gallatin, 


Embargo and Nullification 

from the most remote coastal waters and the long border with 
Canada. The demand for flour and grain in Europe had 
generated a profitable illegal market in ports along the borders 
of Maine, Vermont, and New York. Merchants claimed that they 
were loading flour, corn, rice, or rye for their coastal trade. Little 
grain found its way to other American ports, however, for in 
Canada these goods sold for up to eight times their American 
value, and often three times the sum shippers were required to 
post as bond under the first Embargo Act. Forfeiture of the 
bonds was a small price to pay for selling a cargo in Canada. 

Even after the second Embargo Act was added in January 
1808, Gallatin still found the law almost impossible to enforce. 
Local courts and juries refused to convict evaders, who were 
often viewed as heroes. 8 In an 1808 circular describing the new 
legislation, the Secretary notified collectors that "no longer 
could goods be moved across the Canadian border." It was a 
futile announcement, even though the President himself fumed 
over smuggling at Alburg, Vermont, Oswego, New York and 
Portland and Passamaquoddy, Maine as well as St. Mary's, 
Georgia, and New Orleans in the South. Those who knowingly 
violated American law in these places, Jefferson concluded, 
formed the "most worthless part of society." 9 Maybe so, but a 
significant portion of the population along the Canadian border 
was involved. New York Governor Daniel Tompkins candidly 
told Gallatin that the embargo courted "open insurrection" from 
Niagara Falls to Passamaquoddy Bay. The entire border popu- 
lation was aflame with resistance, he said, both because people 

December 28, 31, 1807, January 7, 1808, John Brice to Gallatin, December 28, 
1807 Microfilm Edition of the Papers of Albert Gallatin, Prince, ed., roll 15. 

^Alexander J. Dallas to Albert Gallatin, July 30, 1808, and passim, 
Albert Gallatin Papers, New- York Historical Society; Gallatin to Thomas 
Jefferson, August 6, 1808, and passim, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of 

* Albert Gallatin to Collectors of Customs, March 12, 1808, Circulars 
Sent to Collectors of Customs, Series T, RG 56, National Archives; Thomas 
Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, August 11 and 19, 1808, in Albert Gallatin 
Papers, New- York Historical Society; Gallatin to Jefferson, May 28, 1808, 
Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

generally thought the embargo a bad law and because the lure of 
high if illicit profits was too powerful to resist. 10 

Alburg, Vermont, the port of entry on Lake Champlain, 
proved a case in point. Collector Daniel Sheldon, Gallatin was 
told, reported a "general disregard of the law in his sector." By 
the spring of 1808, Jefferson himself believed an "insurrection" 
had taken place in that border town, and sent Federal troops to 
help the collector enforce the law and keep the peace. Smugglers 
shipped grain across the lake to Canada and brought weapons 
into the United States on the return trip. The general public 
tended to cheer those who sabotaged customs officers from time 
to time. By the first months of 1809, as Jefferson was about to 
leave office, the embargo had fallen into such disrepute that for 
a small fee some of the troops — earlier employed to support and 
protect the collector — helped to load rafts with goods to be 
smuggled into Canada. Alburg, in short, was a visible manifes- 
tation of the failure of customs to enforce a weak law ineffec- 
tively supported in Washington. 11 

Maine also proved a headache for customs officials. Passa- 
maquoddy Bay, just below the Canadian border, was a small port 
of entry guarding a large body of water so pocketed with coves and 
inlets that customs coverage was impossible. Smuggling there was 
rampant. Portland was another trouble spot. By the end of 1808, 
one local official reported, "certain collectors east of Boston" 
(Portland included) were pressured by local merchants to "cancel 

10 Gallatin to Jefferson, July 29, August 9 and 23, and September 14, 
1808, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. 

11 All sorts of details exist describing the anarchic state of things in 
Alburg. For example, see Jabez Penniman to Albert Gallatin, February 29, 
1808, Gallatin to Penniman, March 24 and April 19, 1808, and Jefferson to 
Gallatin, April 19, 1808, in Albert Gallatin Papers, New- York Historical 
Society; Tench Coxe to Gallatin, December 18, 1808, Gallatin to Lewis F. 
Delesdernier, March 29, 1808, and passim, Microfilm Edition of the Papers of 
Albert Gallatin, Prince, ed., rolls 16, 17, and 18. Newspapers were also full 
of stories about Alburg, attention drawn to the community by the deployment 
of soldiers to the town. See, for example, Hartford Connecticut Courant, 
February 3 and 10, 1808; New York Evening Post, May 16 and July 25, 1808; 
Providence, Rhode Island, Gazette, March 25, 1809; Maryland Herald and 
Hagerstown Weekly Advertiser, December 9, 1808. 


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Commission, Deputy Customs Collector for New England, 1683. Massachusetts Archives at 
Columbia Point. Massachusetts. 

Customhouse, Yorktown, Virginia; thought to be the oldest extant customhouse in English- 
speaking America, c. 1720. 

Boston Customs officer's commission, 1767. Courtesy Her Majesty's Customs and Excise 
Museum and the Public Record Office, London, England. 

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General i 

stablishment of all officers employed in His Majesty's Customs in America, 1772. 
Her Majesty's Customs and Excise Museum and the Public Record Office, London, 

Known for its role in the Boston Tea Party, the Dartmouth arrived in Boston with a cargo of tea 
in November 1773. The colonists realized that once the tea was ashore and the duties paid or 
secured in some fashion, the protest against the hated Tea Act was a lost cause. When the Royal 
Collector of Customs refused the re-export of the tea to England, the colonists had a dilemma. 
Under a long-standing rule. Customs officers could seize dutiable goods if payment were not 
made within 20 days, an action the colonists feared would result in its ultimate consumption in 
America. On December 16, 1773, the night before the 20-day period ended. Sons of Liberty 
boarded the Dartmouth and two other ships and dumped the tea into Boston Harbor. The Brig 
Dartmouth by Ruth Edwards, 1967. Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New 
Hampshire. Gift of the Class of 1907. 

Customs Officer John Malcolm tarred and feathered at the Liberty Tree in Boston, 1774. 

Receipts and Expenditures of the National Government: 1789 to 1940 


JUNE 30— 


Customs 2 

Internal revenue 



profits tax 


1789-180O 5 
1801-1810 7 
1811-1820 7 
1821-1830 7 
1831-1840 7 
1841-1850 7 
1851-1860 . 
1861-1865 . 
1866-1870 . 
1871-1875 . 
1876-1880 . 
1881-1885 . 
1886-1890 . 
1891-1895 . 
1896-1900 . 
1901-1903 . 





























1931 13 

1932 13 

1933 13 

1934' 3 

1935 13 

1936' 3 

1937 13 

1938' 3 

1939 13 

1940 13 
























































9 28,005 



io 29 





























14 2,163,414 

14 2,640,285 

14 2,188,757 

l4 2,125,325 

6 375 





6 1 









































,3 1,822,612 

,3 2,178,571 

l3 2,086,276 

,3 2,433,726 

13 3,031,034 

13 2,972,464 

,3 3, 177,809 

Receipts and Expenditures of the National Government: 1789 to 1940 



JUNE 30— 

1789-1800 3 

1801-1810 7 

1811-1820 7 

1821-1830 7 

1831-1840 7 

1831-1840 7 







































1931 13 

1932 13 


1934 13 

1935 13 

1936 13 

1937' 3 

1938' 3 

1939 13 

1940 13 


lands 4 



Surplus ( + ) 

or deficit ( - ) 



compared with 




them 1 

receipts 2 




deficiencies 3 

4 30 
9 22 

( 4 ) 

( 8 ) 







+ 3,970 


+ 5,761 

+ 5,966 


+ 74 

- 522,878 

+ 69,659 

+ 49,370 

+ 32,526 

+ 100,270 

+ 96,314 

- 10,708 

- 22,574 
+ 23,922 
+ 44,875 
+ 24,782 
+ 86,732 
+ 10,631 

+ 2,728 

- 62,676 
+ 48,478 




+ 212,475 

+ 86,724 

+ 313,802 

+ 309,657 

+ 505,367 

+ 250,505 

+ 377,768 

+ 635,810 

+ 398,828 

+ 184,787 

+ 183,789 





- 3,782,966 









Notes and source on overleaf. 

The U.S. Customs Service 

Source: Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1957 (Washington, 
D.C.: GPO, 1957), p. 167. 

Note.— In thousands of dollars. Figures prior to 1916 are on the basis of warrants issued 
(net); thereafter on the basis of daily Treasury statements (unrevised) except as noted. General, 
special, and trust accounts are included for 1780 to 1930; trust and related accounts (increment 
on gold, etc.) are excluded beginning with 1931. 

1 Surplus or deficit takes into account public debt retirements chargeable against ordinary 
receipts beginning 1918. 

2 Based on reports of the Post Office Department. Expenditures include adjusted losses, etc., 
postal funds, and expenditures from postal balances; they exclude departmental expenditures in 
Washington, D.C., to the close of the fiscal year 1922, and amounts transferred to the civil 
service retirement and disability fund, fiscal years 1921 to 1926; in 1927 to 1939 the 3# percent 
salary deductions are included. 

3 Includes tonnage tax prior to 1932. Beginning 1932, tonnage tax is included in miscella- 
neous receipts. 

4 On the basis of warrants issued 1780 to 1930; thereafter, on basis of checks issued. 

5 Average for period Mar. 4, 1789, to Dec. 31, 1800. 

6 Averages are for entire period though there were no amounts under these items for certain 

7 Years ended Dec. 31, 1801 to 1842; average for 1841-1850 is for the period Jan. 1, 1841, to 
June 30, 1850. 

8 Less than $500. 

9 Average for 1863 to 1865. 

10 Average for 1881 and 1884. 
" One year only, 1895. 

12 See headnote. 

13 Includes processing tax and for 1937 to 1940, taxes under Social Security Act, and taxes 
upon carriers and their employees. 

14 Includes unjust enrichment tax. 

15 Sales of public lands included with miscellaneous receipts; postal revenues and expendi- 
tures not available. 

E v i « I 







The Constitution of the United States 
with the commerce clause 
highlighted, 1787. 

Section. 8. The Congress shall have 
Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, 
Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts 
and provide for the common Defence 
and general Welfare of the United States; 
but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall 
be uniform throughout the United States; 

' ... 





.. .... .7.. 

CoiipreCs of the United States, 

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The Second Act of Congress created the U.S. Customs Service, 1789. 

Thomas Jefferson, President. 1801-1809. The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Museum. 

James Madison, President, 1809-1817; author of the commerce clause, 1787. The National 
Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Museum. 

Otho Holland Williams, Collector, Port of Baltimore, 1791-94. 

Benjamin Lincoln, Collector, Boston, 1783-1809. 

tfwiQfb WahhAjnaion 

Prefident of the United States of America, 


ated, and by and with the Advice and Confent of thr 
have and to hold the faid office, with 

KNOW Ye, That repofing fpecial Truft and Confidence in the Integrity, Diligence and J&UxJttXi&vv oi -JuCtUUtfcL JCudjbf 

"IVr"" ~ *f " ;— ~ Iha 

Senate, Do anoint him XeMuXvr let ihs. jf>i5*Ktt (U -/otAxbYHi/a, 

and do authorize and empower him to execute and fulfil the Duties of that Office according to Law 

all the Rights and Emoluments thereunto legally appertaining, u-.o him the faid 0UcJuaYcC '•faalt>r -*-" during the Pleafurc of th 

Prefident of the United States for the Time being. 

In Testimony wt^reof I have caufed thefe Letters to be made Patent, and the Seal of the United States to be hereunto affixed. 
Given under my Hand, at tie 4ihf oi i/tuWUjiluc ' the JiMvdu frd. Day of liLa/ft-A. ,. in the Year 

of our Lord one thoufand feven hundred and ninety ryyyj^ and of the Indspcndence of the United Stales of America the 

^UAtJtk . 

Commission for John Lamb, Collector, Port of New York, 1791. 
Customs entry, Port of New York, 1792. 


Entry of MERCHANDIZE imported by ^rawe-v 4 
in the ^tAt/' M* \/e<*n JayueJ , ^k_ (zta#LaL-- 
Mafter, from a ( Scnal/i<iiuxL~ ' — ; — 

& . — 

■* U 1 ( n »c /^a/wX /£„&<*<■'„ <j 


Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, 1789-95. 

Embargo and Nullification 

the Bonds without the cargoes having been landed" in order to 
avoid open flouting of the embargo laws. In effect, in Maine and 
Massachusetts, collectors were conceding the game. Even permis- 
siveness on a large scale did not prevent crowd actions, however. 

Naval Captain William Bainbridge, posted at Portland, 
reported that, in October 1808, "an armed and riotous mob" 
threatened the lives of the officers in the customhouse. The 
collector himself described what happened: "The wharves were 
taken possession of by a large number of disguised and armed 
men, supposed to be one or two hundred and they loaded and 
carried out of the harbor two vessels." With some bitterness, 
collector Isaac Ilsey added, "I suppose that ere long Government 
will take some efficient measures to prevent these disgraceful 
practices." 12 But Ilsey waited in vain. 

So did his counterpart at St. Mary's, Georgia. This south- 
ernmost port of entry in the United States proved as troublesome 
to Jefferson and Gallatin as did the ports on the northern 
frontier. The collector there persuaded the Treasury Secretary 
and the President that "cotton at this moment is the great 
object." St. Mary's was the American port closest to the British 
West Indies and Spanish Florida, and so, Gallatin reported to 
Jefferson, "the system of illegal exportations is carried on the 
largest scale, and embraces all the sea-coast of Georgia." 
Baltimore collector James McCulloch reinforced this view, ask- 
ing that stronger efforts be made to interdict trade along the 
whole southern coast, but at St. Mary's in particular. "For- 
eigners," McCulloch wrote, "speak a good deal of cotton lately?' 
and St. Mary's was the key to smuggling "arrangements." 13 

12 Isaac Ilsey to William Bainbridge, November 1, 1808, and Bainbridge 
to Robert Smith, November 1, 1808, Captains' Letters, Navy Department 
Files, RG 45, National Archives; T. Webb to James Madison, November 6, 
1808, Microfilm Edition of the Papers of Albert Gallatin, Prince, ed., roll 18; 
Isaac Ilsey to Daniel Ilsey, November 6, 1808, Albert Gallatin Papers, 
New- York Historical Society. 

13 James McCulloch to Albert Gallatin, December 5, 1808, and Albert 
Gallatin to Thomas Jefferson, December 28, 1808, Microfilm Edition of the 
Papers of Albert Gallatin, Prince, ed., roll 18. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

The Georgia port posed several problems. Small boats, for 
example, were employed to ferry cotton out to vessels waiting 
offshore; Jefferson's solution was to suggest the destruction of 
"all boats" in the area, a suggestion so absurd that it was 
ignored. Less absurd was McCulloch's advice that no vessel be 
permitted to leave port with an entirely black crew, "as the laws 
of Maryland and some other states" prevent them from testify- 
ing against ships' masters violating the embargo. Obviously, 
smugglers were recruiting crews made up entirely of free blacks 
with just this in mind. These almost farcical recommendations 
indicate the hysteria and frustration gripping everyone from the 
President down to the collector. 14 

The problem at St. Mary's was apparently not even resolved 
by a flotilla of naval gunboats dispatched to the area in the 
spring of 1808. Flotillas off Georgia, those operating out of 
Passamaquoddy, and those in the Port of New Orleans all 
reported the same problems: "Ships often escaped through the 
connivance of the customs agents themselves [or] masters put 
into foreign ports . . . claiming dire emergencies" offloading 
even as they established alibis. Lieutenant Samuel Elbert, the 
commander of the gunboats, was enjoined to work closely with 
the collector at St. Mary's, but to make sure never to violate "by 
any act whatever the acknowledged jurisdiction of Spain." 
Judging by the frustration evident in Washington almost nine 
months after these orders were drafted, prevention of smuggling 
by the use of gunboats off the Georgia coast proved as impos- 
sible as it did at Passamaquoddy and Portland. 15 

Nonetheless, Gallatin remained enthusiastic about the de- 
ployment of navy gunboats — small, swift-oared vessels mount- 
ing a cannon in the bow. Because of their success in curbing the 
Barbary pirates off North Africa early in Jefferson's adminis- 
tration, the Navy had built a large fleet. Gallatin wanted to use 

14 lbid. 

15 Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith to Lieutenant Samuel Elbert, May 
2, 1808, The Naval War of 1812, William S. Dudley, ed. (Washington, D.C.: 
1986), vol. I, pp. 35-36. 


Embargo and Nullification 

them as revenue cutters and, when the Navy claimed it had too 
few men for such duty, he asked his customs collectors to recruit 
gunboat crews. This was an absurd suggestion, as several collec- 
tors and naval officers told the Treasury Secretary. Tensions 
between the Customs Service and the Navy remained a fact of 
life throughout the embargo period. Part of the Navy's problem 
was its unwillingness to enforce a law against American citizens; 
naval officers, according to one historian, tended to treat 
customs personnel with great arrogance, at least in the South. 16 

The Embargo: Its Final Stages 

Successively stronger embargo laws in 1808 so enlarged 
customs enforcement power that collectors no longer needed to 
obtain court warrants for searches and seizures, either at sea or 
on land. Discretionary authority proved to be a curse, however. 
Customhouses were still understaffed, and public hostility to the 
embargo was becoming more open. As the year progressed, 
customs collectors found themselves increasingly isolated and 
unpopular in their home towns, and subject to deepening 
executive and congressional criticism from Washington. 

Some politically connected customs collectors refused to 
recognize the embargo and even let it be known that it would not 
be enforced in their districts. Joseph Whipple at Portsmouth, 
New Hampshire, was most open about it. And Providence 
collector Jeremiah Olney, a widely respected Jeffersonian Repub- 
lican, resigned in protest to make his point; the embargo, he told 

16 For newspaper comment on Navy-Customs relations see the Providence 
Gazette, February 4, 1809; Norfolk [Virginia] Gazette and Public Ledger, 
November 16, 1808; Mannix, "The Embargo," pp. 251-53. For the sources of 
that tension, see Stephen Decatur to Robert Smith, August 9, 10, 13, 15, 26, 
September 1, 1808, John Rogers to Smith, July 5, 25, 1808, and passim, 
Captains' Letters, Navy Department Files, RG 45, National Archives; Albert 
Gallatin to Thomas Newton, November 29, 1808, Thomas Jefferson to 
Gallatin, October 5, 1808, and passim, Microfilm Edition of the Papers of 
Albert Gallatin, Prince, ed., roll 18. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Jefferson, was a failure. 17 Olney had warned Gallatin early on 
that "if general and strong attempts should be made" to evade 
the embargo, "the collector will certainly be inadequate to that 
purpose." In order to "command obedience to the laws, it will 
require an armed force, stationed on the wharf, and a public 
armed vessel at the harbours a few miles below the town [of 
Providence], but these are not within my controul." 18 

Similar complaints mounted, particularly, but not exclusively 
from New England, as the first anniversary of the embargo 
approached at the end of 1808. In Baltimore, Collector James 
McCulloch wrote Gallatin listing the many seizures he had made 
and complaining that the subsequent prosecutions were bogged 
down in the courts. He added that, given the size of his staff, it 
was impossible to stop and search every outbound ship clearing 
his port. At the end of November, at about the time Olney was 
writing from Providence, McCulloch sent Gallatin a list of 
persisting deficiencies in the embargo legislation. 19 

Federalist Jedediah Huntington, the collector at New London, 
Connecticut, had been kept on by Jefferson because of his well- 
known Revolutionary service and his dominant role in the port town. 
He found the embargo a repugnant measure aimed at Federalist New 
England, but he did his best to enforce it at first, even though his 
efforts made him ever more unpopular. New London was a partic- 
ularly difficult enforcement district. Not even a revenue cutter could 
effectively patrol Long Island Sound, given its size and the many 
small inlets and islands capable of sheltering smugglers. Hunting- 
ton, however, relied on informers to provide direction for both his 
cutter and a naval gunboat seconded to his customhouse. 

17 Albert Gallatin to Thomas Jefferson, May 23, 1808, January 10, 1809, 
Jefferson to Gallatin, February 22, 1809, Joseph Whipple to Gallatin, 
February 14, 22, 23, 1809, Levi Lincoln to Gallatin, January 30, 1809, 
Microfilm Edition of the Papers of Albert Gallatin, Prince, ed., roll 18. 
Providence Gazette, February 18, 1809; Mannix, "The Embargo," pp. 270-77. 

18 Jeremiah Olney to Albert Gallatin, November 25, 1808, Microfilm 
Edition of the Papers of Albert Gallatin, Prince, ed., roll 18. 

19 Ibid., James McCulloch to Albert Gallatin, November 30, 1808, 
February 25, 1809. 


Embargo and Nullification 

In one typical case, a shipment of embargoed cotton was stolen 
in December 1808. Customs Inspector Ezra Lee reported to the 
collector that "the man that I employed to give information in 
regard to that Cotton . . . sent me word that last Night the store 
that Contained it was Broke open and the whole of it taken off." 
Lee urged Huntington to try to intercept the cotton before it 
reached the "armed vessel that was lying off Duck Island" waiting 
to receive it. That proved impossible; the cutter and gunboat were 
elsewhere, and by the time they could be notified, the smuggler was 
long gone. It was a familiar story. When seizures were made, the 
goods were stored in warehouses that proved insecure, and seized 
goods often melted before the collector's eyes. Meanwhile, Hun- 
tington's strenuous efforts to enforce the law made him increasingly 
unpopular in a Federalist town. No wonder he finally refused to 
chase after will-o-the- wisps and by the end of 1808 had given up on 
active enforcement. 20 

So did disgusted Collector Abraham Bishop at New Haven, 
as he reported on the fate of the sloop Hope in March 1809. 
Captured by a revenue cutter with smuggled goods, it was 
brought to the harbor and "her cargo and sails put into public 
store." The ship itself was placed under guard. The first night, 
however, the guards were driven off by a disguised mob, the ship 
was plundered, and the sloop was burned "to the water's edge." 
A grand jury concluded that nobody knew who had burnt the 
ship, so no bill of indictment was returned. Bishop was acerbic 
in his report, indicating that no reliance could be placed on State 
and local courts. "I have suffered . . . this nothingness," he 
wrote, "to pass without observation." The offenders, whoever 
they were, he added, were probably in "No man land." 21 He 
resolved to worry less about evasions in the future. 

20 Ezra Lee to Jedediah Huntington, December 27 and 31, 1808, "Cor- 
respondence 1803-1812, New London;' Bureau of Customs Papers, RG 36, 
Regional Archives Branch, Federal Records Center, Waltham, Massachusetts. 

21 Abraham Bishop to Jonathan Law, March 11, 1809, Letters by 
Abraham Bishop, 1804-1816, Miscellaneous Manuscript Collections, Group 
352, Series XV, Box 77, Folder 1602, Sterling Library, Yale University, New 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Things were no better a little further east, at Newport. One of 
the senior collectors in the service, William Ellery, also had his 
hands full in a port town hostile to enforcement. A common ruse 
was exposed on one of the few occasions when an offender was 
caught. On November 21, 1808, the schooner Polly, cleared for 
coasting at Newport, was libeled "for taking on board a quantity 
of flour in the District of Maine." Instead of returning to 
Newport with its complete cargo, however, the Polly made for 
Nova Scotia, where it sold part of the shipment and then 
returned to Newport with a light load and tried to clear customs. 
On this occasion Polly did not make it, although she apparently 
had many times in the past. The vessel was ultimately forfeited 
and sold at auction; its owners also forfeited the bond required 
for the original clearance. 22 

These were not isolated occurrences. The Neptune out of 
Kingston, Rhode Island, cleared in ballast for Maine, "pur- 
chased a Load of Salt and carried it to Havana." The schooner 
returned to Kingston six weeks later, still in ballast, claiming it 
had "sprung its foremast" and could not complete the trip to 
Maine. Nobody at the customhouse believed that story, and the 
ship was libeled. 23 

Another vessel out of Sag Harbor, New York, placed its bond 
for a coasting trip, loaded up with Long Island produce, and 
claimed to be making for Egg Harbor, New Jersey, about two 
days' sail. It returned five weeks later claiming that as "they 
proceeded immediately around Montauk" they "were blown off 
course" and had to jettison the cargo! The story was so 
obviously unbelievable, given the time lapse, that when the 
owners could not come up with any papers indicating clearance 
from another port, even in ballast, the ship was libeled. 24 

Other problems attended this enforcement crisis. Morale 
dropped to a point almost— but not quite— as low as it had been 

22 William Ellery to Albert Gallatin, December 3, 1808, Microfilm 
Edition of the Papers of Albert Gallatin, Prince, ed., roll 18. 
23 Ibid. 
24 Ibid., H.R Dering to Albert Gallatin, December 1, 1808. 


Embargo and Nullification 

during the American Revolution. Complaints denouncing cus- 
toms collectors who enforced the embargo were routinely ig- 
nored in Washington. Occasionally, however, disgruntled politi- 
cians used the embargo issue to try to undercut an opposing 
collector. For example, a local official at Lake Champlain 
charged chief customs officer Melancthon Woolsey with failing 
to enforce the law. Treasury Secretary Gallatin responded by 
sending the accuser copies of Woolsey's reports on his efforts in 
what may have been the toughest of all customs districts. In an 
accompanying letter Gallatin wrote the accuser that "everything 
was fairly conducted and the impression of his [Woolsey's] good 
conduct was such that on two occasions I was directed by the 
President to assure him that it was highly approved." "You must 
be sensible," Gallatin concluded coldly, "that unless facts are 
stated which will directly apply?' rather than the "vague charges" 
so far received, it would be better to stop writing. 25 

Not all collectors were so ably buffered from embargo-related 
tensions, however; many were sued personally for their enforce- 
ment of the law. David Gelston, Jeremiah Olney, Benjamin 
Lincoln, Benjamin Weld, Joseph Otis, and Edward Pope were 
only a few of those subjected to the pressures of potential 
personal liability. In these matters Treasury and the President 
were less forthcoming, and as often as not collectors were left to 
defend themselves. A "breakdown of understanding, confidence 
and communication" between Gallatin and his senior customs 
personnel inevitably resulted. 26 

25 Ibid., Albert Gallatin to Nathan Wilson, December 5, 1808. 

26 For the dilemma of litigation in which customs collectors found 
themselves, see Albert Gallatin to Thomas Jefferson, July 29 and October 12, 
1808, Gallatin to Samuel Tredwell, August 17, 1808, in Papers of Thomas 
Jefferson, Library of Congress; David Gelston to Gallatin, November 8, 
1808, Papers of Albert Gallatin, New- York Historical Society; Microfilm 
Edition of the Papers of Albert Gallatin, Prince, ed., roll 18, passim. 

For indications of the breakdown of communication between Gallatin 
and his collectors, see Gallatin to William Ellery, July 23, 1808, Gallatin to 
Samuel Latta, July 30, 1808, Gallatin to Lemuel Trescott, July 25, 1808, 
Microfilm Edition of the Papers of Albert Gallatin, Prince, ed., roll 18; 
Gallatin to Jefferson, August 5, 1808, Gallatin to Samuel Tredwell, August 


The U.S. Customs Service 

In a nutshell, although collectors knew their job was to press 
the hated embargo on a reluctant community, they nevertheless 
tried to avoid trouble, either by failing to enforce rigorously or 
by committing themselves to defending citizens against govern- 
ment. Caught between government and community, the collec- 
tors' corporate morale eroded badly. 

Two signs of dissipating esprit in the Customs Service suggest 
the residual impact the embargo had on morale. First, collectors 
saw that they could avoid headaches if they just stopped writing 
to Washington about their enforcement problems. Gallatin 
noticed this, and at the end of 1808 singled out three glaring 
examples; he told Comptroller of the Treasury John Steele that 
the customs officers at Sag Harbor, New York; Perth Amboy, 
New Jersey; and Nantucket, Massachusetts, had all failed to 
keep Washington up to date on difficulties in their districts. 
Second, Gallatin realized that he was having trouble finding 
help; by late 1808 he disclosed to confidants that for the first 
time since the birth of the Republic, "government found it 
impossible" to fill vacancies in the service. 27 

Declining income played its part in making Customs look less 
attractive. Detailed tonnage figures for the port of New Haven, 
Connecticut, reveal that the volume in 1808 was only 60 percent 
of what it had been in 1806, the last full year without an 
embargo; 892 tons had passed through the port in the former 
year, 529 tons in the latter. In practical terms this meant less 
income from fees and more layoffs of customs employees who 
had thought their jobs secure. Nor was the nationwide loss of 
tonnage and income a temporary phenomenon, for commerce 

17, 1808, Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Library of Congress; Mannix, "The 
Embargo," pp. 183-89. 

27 Albert Gallatin to John Steele, December 1, 1808, and January 6, 1809, 
Gallatin to James McCulloch, December 20, 1808, Henry Dering to Gallatin, 
December 1, 1808, Silas Crane to Gallatin, November 28, 1808, John Enalls to 
Gallatin, December 15, 1808, Gallatin to Francis Hawks, January 31, 1809, and 
Hart Massey to Gallatin, February 26, 1809, Microfilm Edition of the Papers of 
Albert Gallatin, Prince, ed., roll 18; Gallatin to Jefferson, January 19, February 
2, and 4, 1809, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. 


Embargo and Nullification 

remained depressed after James Madison's accession to the 
Presidency; his virtual embargo replaced Jefferson's, and then 
the War of 1812 perpetuated the commercial depression. 28 

Even southern ports, not accustomed to large-volume foreign 
exchange, suffered because of the mandated end to the slave 
trade in 1808. The embargo, by an accident of timing, over- 
lapped with the closure of the slave trade; so there were problems 
with enforcing the ban on the slave trade from the beginning. 
Because of the complexity of embargo enforcement by then, 
Gallatin instructed his collectors not to try to enforce the 
anti-slave trade ban. This proved disastrous, for it fed the 
widespread flouting of the Constitution long after the official 
closing of the slave trade. 29 

For years after this false start, collectors were reminded to 
enforce the prohibition against importing slaves, which obviously 
meant that the ban was honored more in the breach than the 
observance. In 1818 New Orleans Collector Beverly Chew reported, 
for example, that "no officers of the customs alone can be effectual 
in stopping the slave traffic" through the Gulf of Mexico. The ease 
of secreting illegally imported blacks in the bayous and the lack of 
personnel to protect even those who were rescued caused Beverly 
Chew to warn that "captured slaves ought not to be brought into 
this port" but sent elsewhere where they could be better protected. 
As late as 1819, Congress itself refrained from demanding strict 
compliance with the ban on the slave trade. 30 

28 Custom House Accounts 1793-1821, New Haven Harbor Collection, No. 
57C, Box 1, Folder 1, New Haven Colony Historical Society, New Haven, 
Connecticut; Abraham Bishop to Jonathan Law, June 10, 1809, Letters by 
Abraham Bishop, 1806-1816, Miscellaneous Manuscript Collections, Group 
352, Series XV, Box 77, Folder 1602, Sterling Library, Yale University, New 
Haven, Connecticut. A similar drop in tonnage occurred at Salem, Massachu- 
setts, where the collector reported a 50 percent decline from 1807 to 1808. See 
Digest of Duties, 2 vols, (manuscript), Peabody Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. 

29 Albert Gallatin to Thomas Bound, December 5, 1808, James Madison 
Papers, Library of Congress. 

30 Beverly Chew to William H. Crawford, April 17, 1818, and Report of 
a House Inquiry into the Act of 2 November, 1807, noting the pending end of 
the slave trade, contained in Extracts from Documents in the Department of 
State, of the Treasury, and of the Navy, in Relation to the Introduction of 


The U.S. Customs Service 

The fallout from the embargo, from this perspective alone, 
ran very deep. Not only was the U.S. Customs Service placed in 
jeopardy by its unwanted mission to enforce a bad law, but the 
economic difficulties for the nation deriving from the law were, 
so far as slavery was concerned, matched by social and political 
pitfalls, as the nullification controversy of 1832-1833 makes 

Nullification and the Customs Service: The Issue 

U.S. protectionist policy between 1816 and 1832 crystallized 
for the South the degree to which the North and the developing 
West were willing to encourage manufactures at the expense of 
agriculture, via increasingly higher tariffs. The South was locked 
into the slave-dependent husbandry of cotton, and lacked the 
population and transportation network to develop an industrial 
base; to an increasing extent after 1816, and particularly during 
the rancorous Missouri controversy of 1819-1820, the issue 
became the future of slavery. So behind the heated emotions 
attaching to the nullification contretemps lay the specter of the 
"peculiar institution." At a time when the rest of the nation was 
freeing its slaves via gradual emancipation, the South increas- 
ingly relied on slave labor to undergird its economy. The 
nullification confrontation was an early test of the will of the 
South to resist change; among other things it was a last-gasp 
effort to preserve states' rights, and a test of the ability of a 
single state to roll back national economic policy. The Charles- 
ton customhouse was the center of the confrontation. 

The constitutional components of nullification are familiar. 
The Tariff of 1828— the "Tariff of Abominations"— had elevated 
import costs to an unconscionable level. The tariff was particularly 
destructive to the southern cotton economy because it raised 
significantly the prices of imported manufactured goods on which 

Slaves into the United States (Washington, D.C.: 1819), Imprint Collection, 
Beinecke Library, Yale University, New Haven. 


Embargo and Nullification 

the South depended, even as it posed the possibility that reciprocal 
tariffs in Britain would undermine cotton profits. Southern leaders 
saw the tariff as unconstitutional because it rode roughshod over 
states' rights. From the beginning, South Carolina was in the 
vanguard of protest, assuming incorrectly that the rest of the South 
was right behind it. Although sympathy for South Carolina's 
resistance ran high in the South, most southern leaders concluded 
that South Carolina went too far when it prevented enforcement oi 
the Tariff of 1828 at its ports. 

Before Jackson's landslide reelection in 1832, the President 
and Congress made an effort at conciliation by slightly reducing 
import duties in that election year. All the states of the South but 
South Carolina accepted the intent, but increasingly extreme 
leaders in that State saw the new tariff as a ruse. It may have 
lowered tariffs a little, but it also fixed permanently a protec- 
tionist policy, and the state's leaders concluded it could not trust 
fellow southerner Andrew Jackson to return to free trade. "Old 
Hickory's" 1832 victory provoked South Carolina to act. On 
November 24, a state convention adopted an ordinance nullify- 
ing the Tariffs of 1828 and 1832. On November 27 the state 
legislature passed a law implementing the ordinance by providing 
for armed resistance. 

These events infuriated Jackson. In particular he took um- 
brage over the threat to the Federal customs revenues, citing it in 
his own response to the November 1832 statement of nullifica- 
tion. South Carolina had explicitly thrown down the gauntlet to 
the President by warning Washington "that any act authorizing 
the employment of a military or naval force against the State of 
South Carolina ... or any act abolishing or closing the ports 
of this State ... or otherwise obstructing the free ingress or 
egress of vessels to and from the said ports" will be declared 
"null and void." Jackson's perception was that the nullifiers had 
pushed him into a corner, rendering further compromise impos- 
sible, and he ordered a military alert at Forts Moultrie and 
Sumter in Charleston Harbor. In a proclamation the President 
justified the use of force by noting, "I consider ... the power 


The U.S. Customs Service 

to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one state, 
incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted 
expressly by the letter of the Constitution, unauthorized by its 
spirit . . . and destructive of the great object for which it was 
formed." 31 

In December 1832 the situation further deteriorated. Jackson 
issued yet another Proclamation to the People of South Carolina 
calling nullification an "impractical absurdity" and warning the 
State that "disunion by armed force is treason." South Carolina 
responded defiantly via legislative resolutions, and the Governor 
issued a counterproclamation. Vice President John C. Calhoun, 
a South Carolinian but not originally a nullifier, felt that he too 
was backed into a corner. To save his power base he took the 
fateful step of resigning the Vice Presidency in order to take a 
seat in the U.S. Senate. There he emerged for the next 15 years as 
the spokesman and leader of the most extreme southern political 
interests. 32 The drama that followed the Vice President's resig- 
nation was played out in the first months of 1833, with 
Charleston Customs Collector James R. Pringle in the forefront. 

Nullification and the Customs Service: The People 

As the November 1832 Presidential election approached, 
Jackson's South Carolina confidants were extremely worried 
about the loyalty of the Charleston customhouse. Congressman 
Joel Poinsett, the leader of the state's Union faction, confided 
his deep concern to the President. "The custom house where the 
battle will be fought is crowded with Nullifiers," he wrote Old 

31 South Carolina's Ordinance of Nullification and its supplementary 
legislative statutes can be found in Senate Document 30, 22d Cong., 2d Sess. 
(January 16, 1833), Annals of Congress. Jackson's Proclamation and other 
presidential documents relating to nullification can be found in A Compila- 
tion of the Messages and Papers of the President, James D. Richardson, ed., 
11 vols. (Washington, D.C.: 1897-1909), vol. II, pp. 610-32, 634-58, 
especially pp. 614, 626, 629. 

32 Ibid. 

Embargo and Nullification 

Hickory in October, "ought they not to be removed?" A month 
later he reiterated his fears: "In the Custom house there are many 
violent nullifiers"; this time he furnished a list. 33 Poinsett's list 
was right on the mark, save in one case. As the administration 
would learn in the ensuing months, the one person they need not 
have worried about was Collector James R. Pringle. 

Appointed by James Monroe in 1820, Pringle enjoyed pros- 
perity in his post for a dozen years before he was placed squarely 
on the firing line. Hedged in closely by the nullification ordi- 
nance and its supplementary legislation, so that anything he did 
to collect the tariff revenue would be construed in the state 
courts as illegal, he was also under extreme pressure from the 
federal government to enforce the tariffs. The strain to which he 
was subjected, according to one historian, was heightened by his 
ownership of "hundreds of slaves scattered throughout the state 
who could be taken for the asking" by state authorities should he 
fail to toe the line and obey nullification statutes. Inasmuch as 
the new local laws made him personally responsible for losses to 
merchants for payment of customs duties, Pringle's "property" 
could be seized and the proceeds of a forced sale awarded to 
those South Carolina importers now "released" by state law 
from the payment of import fees. "Collector Pringle was in 
danger of being thrown in jail for any attempt to collect the 
customs, while merchants were freed of all responsibility for 
defying him." 34 Governor James Hamilton believed at the 
beginning of 1833 that his new state laws would "render it utterly 
impossible to collect within our limits, the duties imposed by the 
protective tariffs thus nullified." 35 

33 Joel R. Poinsett to Andrew Jackson, October 16 and November 16, 
1832, Correspondence of Andrew Jackson, John Spencer Bassett, ed., 7 vols. 
(Washington, D.C.: 1926-1935), vol. IV, pp. 481, 487. 

34 Leonard White, The Jacksonians: A Study in Administrative History, 
1829-1861 (New York: 1954; 2d ed. 1965), p. 514; William H. Freehling, 
Prelude to the Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 
1816-1836 (New York: 1965), pp. 272-73. 

35 Senate Document 30, 22d Cong., 2d Sess., January 16, 1833, Annals of 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Jackson was determined to suppress what he saw as a revolt. 
"In the city of Charleston," he said in his message to Congress of 
January 16, 1833, "within a collection district, and a port of 
entry, a rendezvous has been opened for the purpose of enlisting 
men" to oppose collection of federal customs duties. "Thus 
South Carolina presents herself in the attitude of hostile prepa- 
ration," he concluded, "and ready for military violence if need be 
to enforce her laws for preventing the collection of duties within 
her limits." That was intolerable. To meet the threat, "instruc- 
tions were accordingly issued on the 6th of November [1832] to 
the collectors in that State, pointing out their respective duties 
and enjoining upon each a firm and vigilant but discreet 
performance of them in the emergency." 36 The President expli- 
citly quoted Joel Poinsett in a confidential letter to Martin Van 
Buren, repeating the Congressman's warning that "nothing but 
force will stop the career of these madmen in the south." 37 

The key to enforcement was the Charleston collector. Pringle 
proved able to withstand the local pressure, but his colleagues in 
the customhouse could not. One of these was Jackson's old 
friend and compatriot in the War of 1812, Captain William 
Laval, now naval officer in the port. "He has proved extremely 
ungrateful to you," Poinsett reported to the President, pointing 
out "the urgent necessity of his removal." A kind way to do this, 
the Congressman added, was to "offer him a Place in New 
Orleans." Jackson finally concurred that Laval's transfer 
"would be useful to the cause of the Union." He took Poinsett's 

Word got around that openings were being created by 
removals and transfers of unreliable officers, and Poinsett was 
quickly perceived as the man with whom to talk. Lieutenant 
Josiah Sturgis, second in command of the Charleston revenue 
cutter, wrote to Poinsett that the commander of the cutter 

36 Andrew Jackson to Congress, January 16, 1833, Messages and Papers 
of the President, Richardson, ed., vol. II, p. 612. 

37 Andrew Jackson to Martin Van Buren, December 25, 1832, Correspon- 
dence of Andrew Jackson, Bassett, ed., vol. IV, p. 505. 


Embargo and Nullification 

(Sturgis' commanding officer) was as untrustworthy as Laval in 
this crisis and should be replaced, and that there was no one 
more loyal for the job than himself. "As regards Nullification" 
Sturgis wrote for relay to the President, "I beg to be understood 
I would not wish a transfer from here so long as one disunion 
Man exists. Not even to Command fifty cutters." But he would, 
he hinted, settle for command of one — in Charleston harbor, so 
that, "should the time ever arrive which God forbid, when the 
Collector of the port shall be prevented from performing his 
official duty by disunion Men, I trust I may be one among many 
to rally to his defense." Sturgis was shortly thereafter named to 
command the cutter. 38 

Nullification and the Customs Service: The Result 

President Jackson took a direct and personal interest in 
customs enforcement in this crisis, just as Jefferson had a 
quarter-century before. Day-to-day oversight, however, remained 
in the hands of Treasury Secretary Louis McLane, whose close 
attention to developments in Charleston paralleled Albert Gal- 
latin's role in the embargo confrontation. Jackson and McLane 
in 1833 used two direct emissaries to maintain contact with 
Pringle; initially Congressman Joel Poinsett and later George 
Breathitt established ways to bypass the Charleston Post Office 
in communicating with Washington, D.C. Because the Charles- 
ton Post Office also collected large sums of federal money, it, 
along with the customhouse, was ordered into the state orbit, so 
the mails were not secure for the use of the Union party. During 
the crisis, communications between Charleston and Washington 
were handled either overland via messengers on horseback or by 

38 For Laval's transfer, see Joel R. Poinsett to Andrew Jackson, November 
16, 1832, Correspondence of Andrew Jackson, Bassett, ed., vol. IV, p. 487. 
For Sturgis's claim to a command, see Josiah Sturgis to Poinsett, January 25, 
1833, vol. 7, folder 7, Joel R. Poinsett Papers, Historical Society of 
Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Navy picket boats traveling the coastal waters. Poinsett became 
so visible that his role as liaison was soon compromised, and so 
Breathitt was dispatched by Jackson, ostensibly as a postal 
inspector. Since Breathitt was the brother of the governor of 
Kentucky and a loyal Jacksonian who was unknown in South 
Carolina, the states' rights forces never ferreted out his real 
mission — "to spy on the nullifiers." 39 

As the confrontation deepened, Jackson became more in- 
volved. He asked Poinsett quietly to introduce Breathitt to Pringle 
as the President's personal representative. Breathitt's first order of 
business was to report on the loyalty of the crew of the revenue 
cutter in Charleston Harbor. He was then to inspect the offshore 
facilities available for emergency use by the customhouse, if it was 
forced to evacuate the waterfront. "I . . . wish this to be done 
merely as a stranger having curiousity to examine your capacity for 
Defence and facilities for command" Jackson wrote Poinsett. Old 
Hickory also asked Breathitt, through Poinsett, "to obtain the real 
intentions" of the nullifiers. Did they mean "really to resort to force 
to prevent the collection of the revenue?" Finally, he wanted the 
Kentuckian to ascertain yet again if any "in the Customs 
. . . belong to or have adhered to the nullifyers." By now, Jackson 
believed that Pringle was loyal, and told Poinsett to tell to Pringle 
that "four thousand stand of muskets with corresponding equip- 
ments have been ordered to Castle Pinckney; and a sloop of war 
with a smaller armed vessel will reach Charleston harbor in due 
time." Pringle was also to commission a picket boat for commu- 
nication with Washington or to build one quickly, until a naval 
vessel could arrive to assume that duty. 40 

Secretary of the Treasury Louis McLane was using the same 
messengers to transmit rapid-fire instructions to Pringle. Remove 

39 to Joel Poinsett, January 23, 1832, Joel Poinsett Papers, vol. 

7, folder 3, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 
and Freehling, Prelude to the Civil War, p. 265. 

^Andrew Jackson to Joel Poinsett, November 7 and December 2, 1832, 
vol. 7, folders 5 and 6, respectively, Joel R. Poinsett Papers, Historical Society 
of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. 


Embargo and Nullification 

anyone remaining in the customhouse, "concerned in or advocating 
the meditated resistance to the Laws of the Union'' he told Pringle 
in November 1832. "Customs should be filled by men attached to 
the Union and faithful to their duty)' he added. Pringle asked for 
and got a Presidential order "for your official and personal 
accommodation at either of the forts" (Moultrie or Pinckney) in 
the harbor, should he or the customhouse in its entirety need 
refuge. "It has been left to your option" McLane wrote to the 
collector, "to remove the Customs house to Castle Pinckney or to 
Fort Moultrie." 41 McLane added a note "expressing confidence 
regarding the firmness and patriotism of the collector." Pringle was 
to enforce the tariff and protect customs revenue, but he was to do 
his best to "avoid apprehended violence." The collector was also to 
inquire about his counterparts at Georgetown and Beaufort, South 
Carolina, "regarding their fidelity to the Union" and to provide any 
"information Relative to a Secession Ordinance by the South 
Carolina Convention." 42 Comprehensive precautions like these 
helped to defuse the expected explosion. 

The ineptitude of the nullifiers, as well as the executive action 
in Washington, helped to isolate the "disunion" forces in South 
Carolina. The rebels' schemes to evade the galling customs duties 
sometimes reached preposterous levels, making this serious 
rebellion something of a local joke by the beginning of 1833. The 
revolt lost even more steam when the nullifiers held a mass 
meeting in Charleston on January 21 to decide future strategies. 
There they organized "The Free Trade Importing Company" to 
bring in goods from abroad without paying the tariff. Governor 
James Hamilton made a major gaffe: He announced that he had 
already sent his rice crop to Havana to be exchanged for sugar. 
He would, he said, permit his sugar to be placed in the customs 

41 Louis McLane to James Pringle, November 19, 1832, January 17 and 
February 8, 1833, and passim, "Correspondence of the Secretary of the 
Treasury with Collectors of Customs, 1789-1 833 " Record Group 56, Micro- 
film Publication No. 178, roll 32, National Archives. 

42 Ibid. See also House Executive Document no. 45, 22d Cong., 2d Sess. 
pp. 92-99, Annals of Congress. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

warehouse until the crisis was resolved. He told the crowd that 
"he knew that his fellow citizens would go even to the death with 
him for his sugar." Within days the Unionists in Charleston 
minted the raucous slogan "even to the death with Hamilton for 
his sugar." 43 In the pre-Civil War South, references to "sugar" 
had a sexual connotation, thus the play on words; the governor 
was known thereafter as "Sugar Jimmy." The belly laugh the 
city shared over this went far toward erasing local tensions. 

By late February and March, 1833, the nullifiers had reached 
some sobering conclusions. They recognized that after some 
purges the customhouse under James R. Pringle was unshakably 
loyal to Washington. They also realized that the offshore federal 
forts and additional revenue cutters made it strategically impos- 
sible for the States' Rights Party to prevent collection of the 
revenue without coercing merchants and shippers to cease to use 
the port entirely. The Force Act of 1833, moreover, proved to 
them that the President was personally and institutionally com- 
mitted to ending the rebellion by any means. Perhaps most 
important, the nullifiers realized that they could not count on 
more than lipservice from any other southern state. South 
Carolina stood alone in this crisis. Recognizing there was no way 
to win, the state accepted a face-saving token reduction of the 
tariff in 1833 and ended its resistance to customs enforcement. 

Twice in a quarter-century the U.S. Customs Service had been 
thrust into the center of a national crisis. In both instances, despite 
the intense pull of local loyalties on the collectors and custom- 
houses, the service as a whole had remained committed to enforcing 
national policy. Neither Jefferson nor Jackson questioned its ability 
to do so. The Customs Service had twice found itself understaffed 
and underfinanced, yet compelled to bear the brunt of enforcing 
badly drawn legislation. These two occasions were the first tests, 
under the Constitution, of the political loyalty and professional 
commitment of Customs in the pressure cooker of national con- 
frontation — but they were by no means the last. 

43 Freehling, Prelude to the Civil War, pp. 288-89. 


Chapter IV 

Washington, D.C., almost recklessly disregarding the evident 
effects of the rapid growth of its civil service in the Age of 
Jackson, perpetuated a nonpolicy that really had begun with the 
Jeffersonians a generation earlier. Nowhere were the results more 
catastrophic than in the mighty Port of New York. The volume 
of goods passing through that harbor and the dynamic increase 
in customs personnel simply magnified the corruption possible 
in the nation's largest city, although the same disease attacked 
smaller customhouses as well. Dishonesty was perhaps the 
inevitable outgrowth of both the failure to reform government 
administration, on the one hand, and the willingness to allow 
politics to take over the civil service, on the other. If New York 
is an example of the first, Nathaniel Hawthorne's experience as 
surveyor of customs in Salem, Massachusetts, illustrates the 
second. Both places show however, that the Customs Service in 
the Jacksonian era was nothing if not colorful. 

Communications and Administration 

Andrew Jackson had inherited a Customs Service that had 
not kept up with the times. The Virginia Presidential dynasty 
had done virtually nothing to improve communication between 
Washington and the ports of entry, or to solve the problem of 
fiscal accountability on the part of the Customs Service. The 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Jeffersonians also perpetuated the reliance on political criteria 
for office holding that, under Old Hickory's aegis, became a 
full-blown spoils system — one built primarily on the back of the 
Customs Service, which had by far the greatest number of 
federal jobs to hand out. But corruption plagued the Jackso- 
nians far more than it had the Jeffersonians. Both massive graft 
and misuse of power in New York and elsewhere in the 1830's 
and 1840's accompanied this new and highly politicized growth. 
Politicization and peculation, in fact, as the Jacksonian period 
demonstrated all too well, went hand in hand. In a Service that 
probably numbered 5,000 outside the District of Columbia in 
1831, and perhaps 8,500 in 1841 (New York City alone would 
soon claim 861 employees), politics, lack of communication, 
and an absence of financial accountability combined to take on 
the proportions of an unredressed major national dilemma. 1 

The Customs Administrative Act of 1799 completed the 
paper organization of the Customs Service begun a decade 
before, and on paper it looked fine. The act, however, did not 
address the functional realities just described. Only one half- 
hearted and unsuccessful effort at reform occurred hard on the 
heels of the first protective tariff of 1816. In 1817 Congress took 
a quick look at communications and fiscal accountability, noted 
flaws — and did little. 2 The administrative act of that year did 
strengthen communication somewhat, but it did nothing to 
ensure that the reports of the collectors were accurate and 
reflected financial reality. And of course, without Presidential 
and party forbearance, nothing was done about removing poli- 
tics from federal appointments. 

The relative failure of 1817 contributed to more than a 
half-century of corruption that began with Jackson's spoils 

'U.S. Department of Commerce, Historical Statistics of the United 
States, Colonial Times to 195 7 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing 
Office, 1957), p. 710; House Executive Document 3, 35th Cong., 2d Sess. 
(November 22, 1858), Annals of Congress, pp. 240-59. 

2 There is a good account of the effort and failure in Leonard White, The 
Jeffersonians, 173-82. 


Customs in the Age of Jackson 

system around 1830. The fact that the Customs Service func- 
tioned well in most places — and it did — was a minor miracle 
owing nothing to Congress and the executive branch, and a great 
deal to the esprit in the ranks, and to the presence of occasional 
whistle-blowers. Part of the problem was that Customs lacked 
leadership. It was in 1830 what it had been in 1790, an 
underadministered arm of the Treasury Department. Between 
the time Albert Gallatin left office in 1817 and the arrival of the 
Jackson administration more than a decade later, Treasury "had 
no doctrine of sound administrative practice," as Leonard White 
has written, and "no means of impressing its views on other 
departments or agencies." 3 Customs circulars dealing with a 
variety of specialized problems and occasional national crises 
came directly from the Treasury Secretary for the entire Age of 
Jackson jus: as they had in 1789, when Hamilton presided over 
a much smaller operation. Thus during the Canadian- American 
border crisis of 1837-38 as well as during the Mexican War, the 
ranking Cabinet officer had to deal specifically with administra- 
tive questions involving cutters, reporting procedures, matters of 
appraisal and underevaluation, and even violations of border 
neutrality. 4 

The fact that the Customs Service had to rely solely on the 
leadership of an overburdened Secretary of the Treasury, no 
matter who the incumbent, generated serious oversight prob- 
lems. The original legislation of 1789 established that pattern in 
an era when the nation was small and customs problems were 
almost entirely maritime. Subsequent legislation did not alter the 
Secretary's leadership role until 1849, when the office of Com- 
missioner of Customs was created. Until that time the Treasury 
Secretary acted as the "central communications control" from 
whom all direction flowed. 

3 Leonard D. White, The Jacksonians: A Study in Administrative His- 
tory, 1829-1861 (New York: 1954, 2d ed. 1965), p. 164. 

4 See the Treasury Circulars to Customs Collectors, arranged chronolog- 
ically, Customs Service Archives, U.S. Customs Service Headquarters, Wash- 
ington, D.C. See particularly the collection covering the years 1830 to 1848. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

The Treasury Secretary corresponded daily with the collec- 
tors and reminded them of the Presidential authority under 
which he acted. In Jackson's first months in office, Treasury 
Secretary Samuel Ingham wrote the collectors that the President 
held the customs officers "rigidly responsible ... in detecting 
and prosecuting those who may be engaged in violating the 
Revenue Laws." But, Ingham subtly reminded his charges, he 
was in control, for "I shall consider it my duty to report to him 
in every case that shall come to my knowledge" in which a 
collector is derelict in his duty. 5 This line of communication was 
workable to a limited extent in the simpler era of the 1790's, but 
it had ceased to work well by the time Jackson took office. 

For one thing, the Customs Service of the 1830's was 
responsible for extensive land borders in the North, Northwest, 
and Southwest, a responsibility that did not exist in 1799, when 
the last major administrative reform took place. Second, the 
Service directed an ever-expanding fleet of revenue cutters. The 
fleet, which had numbered only 10 at the end of the 18th 
century, had expanded significantly during the era of the em- 
bargo and afterward, as we have seen. Third, Customs was 
expected to ward off growing corruption with a shrinking budget 
and haphazardly assigned secret agents (called field agents, 
confidential agents, and even "aids to the revenue" at different 
times during the era ending in 1850). Finally, the positions of 
inspector and naval officer were never fully developed in this 
period. Inspectors were paid $2 a day until 1816, when they were 
raised to $3. Given their increasing responsibilities in the act of 
1799, per diem payments did not provide the continuity neces- 
sary to make the position work as it was intended. 6 

All these problems mirrored the weaknesses in the position of 
naval officer of customs, a position meant to act as a check on 

5 Michael N. Ingrisano, Jr., A History of Enforcement in the United 
States Customs Service 1789-1875 (Washington, D.C.: 1986), chapter 3, pp. 
15, 35. 

6 Ibid, chapter 2, pp. 2, 19, 23ff; chapter 3, pp. 3, 4, 14, 15, 18ff, 35; 
chapter 4, pp. 1, 2, 8ff, 12ff. 


Customs in the Age of Jackson 

the fiscal integrity and administrative competence of the all- 
powerful collector. The naval officer was supposed to be the 
"watchdog" of the collector's accounts and the internal "au- 
ditor" on the spot. That office existed in all major ports of entry. 
The position was created in 1789 and clarified in the act of 1799, 
but clearly it was outstripped by both the size and the complexity 
of the largest ports in the Age of Jackson, and the political 
realities imposed on the civil service in general in this era. Events 
in New York would make this clear enough. 7 

Only in 1849 did Congress create the position of Commis- 
sioner of Customs, with direct responsibility both for adminis- 
tering the agency and for enforcing fiscal integrity. 8 An 1842 
congressional investigating committee triggered this reform by 
condemning the Jacksonian system of accountability, a system 
inherited from the past. Congress in 1817 authorized the Comp- 
troller of the Treasury to oversee the collector's accounts but left 
all other administration in the hands of the Treasury Secretary. 
Because the Comptroller in turn was "entirely subject" to the 
Treasury Secretary's control, the former was infected with the 
need to take into account political realities in reviewing accounts. 
The cases of the New York City Collectors Samuel Swartout and 
Jesse Hoyt illustrate these weaknesses all too well. 9 

The New York City Customhouse 

President Andrew Jackson ignored all kinds of advice in 
order to appoint Samuel Swartout the collector of customs at 
New York City. On paper, it looked to be a fine appointment. A 
descendant of a colonial Dutch family, part of the New York 

7 Ibid., chapter 3, pp. 18-19. 

8 Michael N. Ingrisano, Jr., "The First Commissioner of Customs," 
Customs Today (Winter 1985), p. 36. The first Commissioner was Charles W. 
Rockwell of Connecticut, who functioned passively at best in the newly 
created post. 

9 House Report 741, 27th Cong., 2d Sess. (May 23, 1842), p. 11, Annals 
of Congress. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

City gentry, and a friend of the President, Swartout strongly 
supported the Jackson movement in the city and state. By the 
time Jackson took his oath in 1829, the New York collectorship 
was considered the best plum on the patronage tree. The port 
handled two-thirds of all imports into the United States, and 
men far less enterprising than Swartout saw that there was big 
money to be made in the customhouse. 

Swartout's nomination appalled Secretary of State Martin 
Van Buren, one of Jackson's closest confidants and the Demo- 
cratic party leader in New York. The appointment "would in the 
end be lamented by every sincere and intelligent member of your 
administration," he told the President. 10 Jackson snapped, 
"None have impugned his integrity or honor. He is reputed to be 
poor, but as an honest man is the noblest work of God, I cannot 
recognize this as an objection to any man." n There is no record 
of Jackson's response in 1838, while in retirement at the 
Hermitage, on learning from Felix Grundy that Swartout had 
fled to England with vast sums of public money. 12 

Van Buren was not alone in worrying about the future of the 
Nation's largest customhouse. Shortly after Swartout's nomina- 
tion to the Senate, New York Congressman C.C. Cambreleng 
contended, "I do not know a man less fitted to be entrusted with 
such vast discretion and authority." 13 Within months of Swar- 
tout's confirmation, Jackson's first U.S. Attorney for the South- 
ern District of New York, which encompassed the city, expressed 
his fears. Swartout, James A. Hamilton wrote in his diary, "was 
so entirely ignorant of the laws which regulated his duty" that he 
needed daily advice. Hamilton recounted an incident he wit- 

10 The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., 
American Historical Association Annual Report, 1918, 2 vols. (Washington, 
D.C., 1919), vol. II, p. 267. 

11 Ibid., 268. 

12 Felix Grundy to Andrew Jackson, November 13, 1838, Correspondence 
of Andrew Jackson, John Spencer Bassett, ed., 7 vols. (Washington, D.C.: 
1926-1935), vol. V, pp. 569-70. 

13 C.C. Cambreleng to Martin Van Buren, April 15, 1829, Martin Van 
Buren Papers, Library of Congress. 


Customs in the Age of Jackson 

nessed while waiting for the collector at the customhouse. He 
watched, Hamilton later wrote, as a clerk wrote out a check for 
$5,000 to Swartout's personal account. Swartout came into the 
room, "taking his accustomed seat at the table, he read the 
check, endorsed it, and looking around the circle of persons 
standing outside the rail, went over to a gentlemen [Swartout's 
brother]" and "delivered the check to him." This was in 1830, 
eight years before the discovery of vast corruption. Hamilton 
said he wrote of the incident to the President, but the collector 
explained it away to Jackson's satisfaction. 14 

Neither Congress nor the Treasury Department probed the 
accumulating evidence of corruption until Swartout took his new 
fortune to England in 1838. Philip Hone, a keen observer of his 
times, noted in his diary entry for December 26, 1838, that a 
"stupendous defalcation had taken place" in the customhouse. 
Hone, who in a few years would himself become a naval officer 
of customs at the port, concluded that what he had heard was 
"the most appalling account of delinquency ever exhibited in this 
country, and no man of common sense can hold the Treasury 
Department innocent in the affair. If they had not sense enough 
to discover and check an evil of this magnitude," he wrote of 
Treasury officials, "they ought to have been turned out in 
disgrace; if they had and did not do it they ought to be 
hanged." 15 

It took a congressional investigation to uncover the full 
extent of Swartout's embezzlement— at least a quarter-million 
dollars. By that time, James Hamilton's recently appointed 
successor, William Price, had joined Swartout in London with 
another $80,000 in public funds. 

The collector had been sophisticated. He collected fines and 
forfeitures, reported them quarterly, and then pocketed a por- 

14 Reminiscences of James A. Hamilton (New York: 1869), pp. 173-74; 
Samuel Swartout to Andrew Jackson, March 27, 1830, Correspondence of 
Andrew Jackson, Bassett, ed., vol. IV, p. 130. 

15 The Diary of Philip Hone, Allen Nevins, ed., 2 vols. (New York: 1927, 
2d ed., 1969), vol. I, p. 375. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

tion, for in figuring the port's quarterly payment, the Treasury 
Department Comptroller only added up duties collected. Swar- 
tout added to this bundle sums paid by importing merchants 
under protest, holding the money in escrow until the U.S. 
Attorney, who eventually absconded with him, dealt with the 
appeal and found for the collector. The escrow funds were then 
passed into Swartout's account and never reported to Washing- 
ton. The collector also took bribes for either quick service at the 
docks or underevaluation of incoming goods. Nobody knows to 
this day how much was really taken, but perhaps as much as $1 
million (about $16 million in 1986 purchasing power) disap- 
peared in this round of graft. 16 

How could this happen? Political appointments, lack of 
local accountability, and sloppy bookkeeping in Washington all 
made it easy. New York's naval officer ignored his charge and 
automatically approved all figures placed before him; he knew he 
owed his job to Swartout and the current administration, and so 
chose a course of prudent blindness over embarrassing probity. 
The naval officer was, by law, the government's watchdog on the 
scene, and when he failed to watch, the system broke down. 
Many others in the customhouse told the investigating commit- 
tee that they knew what was going on, but it was worth their jobs 
to report it. "We clerks in the customhouse consider ourselves as 
in the service of the collector^' one employee told the committee, 
"and not in the service of the United States." Political obligation 
made one employee feel he was "the private assistant of the 
collector. It was my duty to render the accounts truly, as I did; 
but not to inquire into the private transactions of the 
collector." 17 

For all the shock and scandal, nothing changed. Jesse Hoyt, 
New York's next collector, continued in his predecessor's path. 
Hoyt, too, was a Democratic party power in New York City who 

16 Congressional Globe, House of Representatives Committee Reports, 
House Report 313, 25th Cong., 3d Sess. (1839), pp. 15ff., 25-34, and passim. 
17 Ibid., pp. 19, 47, 97, 265, 362-63, and passim. 


Customs in the Age of Jackson 

believed wholeheartedly in the years after 1838 that the office 
and both its legitimate and its less-than-honest perquisites 
belonged to him by right. "I have said from the commencement 
of the [Jacksonian election] contest," he wrote Martin Van 
Buren, "that I would not support any administration who would 
support men in power that contributed to overthrow the Dem- 
ocratic party in this State." Political enemies must be turned out. 
"All personal considerations and private friendships must yield 
to political justice" he told the New York party leader. 18 

Hoyt was even more clever than his predecessor; he would 
have to be, with everyone looking over his shoulder after 
Swartout's dodge. He introduced what one observer tagged "the 
Storage System," a means of increasing his legitimate income 
from the collectorship of $12,000 a year to about $20,000. It was 
a device almost within the law. Very simply, Hoyt held (or 
"stored") all fees merchants paid under protest for what was 
usually an unfair evaluation. This money Hoyt put out at interest 
for up to six months, pocketing the profit. At the same time, he 
claimed to Congress that nothing in the statutes protected him 
personally from merchant lawsuits, should the Treasury Depart- 
ment rule in favor of the importer. "I will not put the money I 
receive under protest," he told a congressional investigating 
committee in 1839, "to the credit of the United States until 
Congress makes provision for my protection." 19 

This gimmick worked, almost until a change of administra- 
tion forced him to flee his office in 1841. In the meantime, he 
found other ways of augmenting his income. As the second 
congressional investigation of the New York customhouse in 

18 Jesse Hoyt to Martin Van Buren, March 21, 1829, in William L. 
McKenzie, The Lives and Opinions of Benjamin Franklin Butler and Jesse 
Hoyt (Boston: 1845), pp. 51-52. 

19 For a description of the Storage System, see William L. Stone to 
Solomon Van Rensselaer, January 23, 1841, in A Legacy of Historical 
Gleanings, Catherine V.R. Bonney, ed., 2d ed., 2 vols. (Albany, N.Y.: 1875), 
vol. II, p. 149. For Hoyt's disclaimer, see Hoyt to the Committee of Congress, 
February 1, 1839, Congressional Globe, House of Representatives Report 
313, 25th Cong., 3d Sess., p. 121. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

four years revealed in 1842, the fallibility of the spoils system, in 
turn, spawned a failed accounting system. Subordinate positions 
were filled by "no shows," as the large number of employees on 
the rolls by 1840 left ample scope to create sinecures. "Appoint- 
ments were based entirely on party affiliation" even at the lowest 
ranks of the service, and thus a significant part of the work force 
was "inattentive or absent from duty," with devastating results 
for the morale of the honest career employees. Hoyt stepped up 
"political assessments" levied on all customhouse operatives, 
extended those contributions to the importers as well, and 
pocketed a portion of the money. Hoyt made life miserable for 
merchants who did not kick in, and he fired balky employees. 20 
Certain to face a congressional investigation from a hostile 
administration after the election of 1840 returned the Whigs to 
office, Hoyt fled the scene with more than $150,000 in public 

The same investigating committee that uncovered Hoyt's 
schemes concluded that the latter's successor, Edward Curtis (a 
Whig named by President John Tyler), showed every sign of 
following in Hoyt's footsteps. After all, arriving at the custom- 
house on his first day in office, he fired 17 measurers on duty 
and replaced them with 15 new men, all Whigs. 21 Even as Curtis 
began to show every sign of continuing business as usual, 
Congress (unsuccessfully, in the long run) once again attempted 
to impose some check on what appeared to be a runaway 
situation in the vast New York City customs complex. Once 
again, reform efforts centered on the integrity of the naval 
officer, but despite a congressional committee recommendation 
in 1842, nothing was done to ensure that integrity. 

When Curtis was replaced in 1845 by the Democratic admin- 

20 Congressional Globe, House Document 212, 27th Cong., 2d Sess., 
April 30, 1842, and House Report 669, April 28, 1842; Niles Weekly Register, 
August 24, 1833, and February 2, 1839. 

21 Cited in Robert G. Albion, The Rise of New York Port, 1815-1860 (New 
York: 1939), p. 226; Congressional Globe, House Document 212, 27th Cong., 
2d Sess., House Report 669, April 28, 1842. 


Customs in the Age of Jackson 

istration of James K. Polk, it was understood that the collector 
must be Cornelius Van Ness, a political power in the city. State 
party leader William Marcy, however, to head off embarrass- 
ment, strongly urged that, although Van Ness must control the 
patronage, it was "expedient that there should be an exceedingly 
honest & vigilant N. officer & one who would divide responsi- 
bility in case of trouble." The solution was to name Nicholas 
Hoffman, "a real watch dog." "So far as the money is 
concerned^' Marcy concluded, "he will look well to it." Van 
Ness, however, would fill the jobs. 22 

This turn of events suggests that in New York, at least, the 
collector was a creature of political party and could never be 
counted on to operate honestly. This belief rested on the premise 
that control of positions for political purposes opened the door 
to fiscal corruption. The Treasury Department believed— or 
professed to believe— that the naval office provided the means of 
keeping the books honest. As subsequent events demonstrate, 
however, the assumption was not correct; naval officers too were 
tainted by the system. Even that self-proclaimed paragon Philip 
Hone proved to have feet of clay in 1851. Having roundly 
condemned Samuel Swartout more than a decade earlier for 
manipulating the spoils system for illegal gain, Hone himself 
proved to be all too capable of contributing his own mite to the 

Hone was a staunch Whig, and, as a reward for Hone's strong 
support for the party cause in 1848 and earlier, President 
Zachary Taylor named him naval officer at the port in 1849. Two 
years later, with his health failing, Hone asked the President to 
name his son Robert to succeed him to the office. Philip had 
taken the job to recoup the family fortune lost in the Panic of 
1837; Robert needed the office to compensate for his own 
business disasters in the 1840's. The son inherited the naval 
office on his father's death in May 1851 , perpetuating a policy of 

22 For Curtis, see ibid. For Van Ness and Hoffman, see William L. Marcy 
to Prosper M. Wetmore, May 3, 1845, William L. Marcy Papers, vol. 10, 
Library of Congress. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

naming officers in New York for every reason save merit. 23 When 
even a person like Philip Hone was compromised by the system, 
it became clear that something more than reliance on the 
integrity of the naval officer was called for. 

In the same year that the elder Hone died, the Treasury 
Department appointed four field appraisers to spot-check books 
and to make random double checks of valuations of imports at 
all the large ports. In 1854 Treasury Secretary James Guthrie 
expanded and regularized the procedure so that all major ports 
of entry would face these inquiries frequently. It was not yet the 
full-fledged system of secret or field agents that the service 
clearly needed, but these were early steps in the right direction. 24 

The problems in large ports, and especially New York City, 
were beyond the ability of a handful of field appraisers to deal 
with, however. For example, when the Democrats returned to 
power in Washington in 1853, it was reported that there were 
27,000 applicants for about 700 subordinate positions in the 
New York customhouse! The National Intelligencer commented 
cynically that "hereafter the government will be chiefly devoted 
to . . . peddling out small offices, and quarreling with such 
collectors and other chief officers as may not consent to be the 
chief tools of the Executive." 

The comment was meant to apply to all major ports, not just 
New York, and in truth Philadelphia offers another case in 
point. In that customhouse in April 1853, the incoming Demo- 
cratic collector notified more than 60 customs employees of the 
wrong political persuasion that they were fired. 25 

23 Philip Hone to William Meredith, March 6, 1849, John Winds to 
Meredith, April 2, 1849, Francis Granger to Meredith, March 17, 1849, 
Robert Hone to Millard Filmore, May 20, 1851, Personnel File of Philip and 
Robert Hone, Naval Officer Applications, U.S. Treasury Department, RG 56, 
National Archives. 

24 Senate Executive Document 2, 33d Congress, 2d Sess., p. 13, December 
4, 1854, Executive Journals of the Senate of the United States. 

25 National Intelligencer, April 30, June 4, and October 11 and 18, 1853. 


Customs in the Age of Jackson 

Culture and Politics at the Customhouse: 
Nathaniel Hawthorne 

Difficulties posed by a far-reaching political test for customs 
appointments and terminations were not limited to a large port, 
as Nathaniel Hawthorne's experience at Salem makes clear. 

Appointed surveyor of customs at Salem, Massachusetts, in 
1846 and removed in 1849, Hawthorne had a brief but eventful 
career in the Customs Service. The dates are not the results of 
happenstance; he was appointed shortly after a Democratic Presi- 
dent (Polk) replaced a Whig administration, and was removed when 
the Democrat gave way to another Whig (Taylor). The dates were 
thus surgically fixed by political considerations, and in this partic- 
ular Hawthorne's experience replicated that of countless other 
19th-century customs employees. To the degree that his recogniz- 
able talent as a creative genius entered into both his nomination and 
his removal, the story is both less typical and more interesting. 

Hawthorne had worked for the Customs Service once before. 
He had been named a measurer of customs at Boston in the late 
1830's by collector George Bancroft. America's most accom- 
plished ante bellum historian, Bancroft was also a major force in 
Democratic politics in Massachusetts. He recognized the bud- 
ding talent of the young Salem writer and thought to provide 
him with a haven that would allow Hawthorne both to write and 
to earn a living. Hawthorne later referred to this experience as "a 
very grievous thraldom J' and it persuaded him not so much to 
eschew public office in the future as to aim higher if the need and 
opportunity arose. 26 

That chance came with James K. Polk's unexpected victory in 
1844. In that year Hawthorne had begun to build his bridges to the 
local Democratic party machine in Salem, and he allowed it to 
forward his name to the new President for either the local postmas- 
ter's job or a high customs post. "I have grown considerable of a 

26 Nathaniel Hawthorne, Passages from the American Note-Books (Bos- 
ton, Mass.: 1896), p. 215. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

politician by the experience of the last few months'' he wrote, when 
the party endorsed him for the surveyor's position. When he got the 
job, he reported, "it is exceedingly convenient for a literary man to 
be able to ensconce himself in an office, whenever his brain gets 
weary and his pen blunted." 27 Had he known what a mixed 
blessing he was about to receive, Hawthorne's joy might have been 
tempered. On the one hand, the customs post would provide him 
with material aplenty about which to write. On the other hand, his 
removal would cause the financially pressed writer considerable 
public and private anguish. 

Hawthorne's nomination was the result of a mix of political 
reward and literary merit, as the recommendations on his behalf 
make clear. The Democratic District Committee for the Second 
Congressional District embracing Salem wrote to Washington that 
Hawthorne's appointment would be "the best means of conciliating 
and giving Satisfaction" to the local party. Many important Salem 
Democrats were urging the impecunious writer's appointment on 
the grounds that the cachet of his literary reputation would provide 
important political returns. John Fairfield, for example, wrote to 
President Polk that Nathaniel Hawthorne "has always been a 
democrat in feeling and action." Fairfield added instructively, 
"With Hawthorne's literary reputation, you undoubtedly are well 
acquainted. For purity and eleagance of style, if not for originality 
and force, he has no superior, in my opinion, among our best 
writers. He is a man of great purity of character" even if not 
particularly "a warm partisan." 28 

Others testified in the same vein. The publisher of the Salem 
Advertiser assured Polk that Hawthorne "has ever been a pure 
and primitive Democrat" as well as a "renowned author." 
George Bancroft, now Secretary of the Navy, also wrote for his 

27 Quoted in Stephen Nissenbaum, "The Firing of Nathaniel Hawthorne," 
Essex Institute Historical Collections, vol. 114 (April 1978), pp. 78-79. 

28 H.L. Connolly to Thomas Bowles, October 25, 1845, and John 
Fairfield to James K. Polk, October 25, 1845, Personnel File of Nathaniel 
Hawthorne, Notable Persons File, U.S. Treasury Department Records, RG 
56, National Archives. 


Customs in the Age of Jackson 

former employee and friend. G.W. Atherton may have best 
summed up the reasons for Hawthorne's appointment when he 
wrote the Treasury Secretary that the writer "is an honor to the 
literature of the Country^ and his appointment would "gratify 
many others besides the Democracy of New England." 29 Polk 
was no literary critic, but he was politically savvy and he 
recognized a political ornament when he saw one. So he made 
the appointment early in 1846. 

Hawthorne documented his work in the customhouse in two 
places: the office logbook and the half- fictional, half- 
autobiographical introductory essay to The Scarlet Letter titled 
"The Custom-House." A reading of this introduction to The 
Scarlet Letter indicates that, where observations can be verified 
in the sources, Hawthorne's essay is a faithful characterization of 
the day-to-day routine of the establishment. Thus we can draw 
on it for a unique glimpse into the way a medium-sized 
customhouse functioned before the Civil War. 

In "The Custom House" Hawthorne wrote that he was on 
duty for "three and a half hours of each forenoon^' a fact borne 
out by the log. His log entries generally show him arriving before 
10 a.m. and leaving around 1 p.m. The log also indicates that on 
a busy day he might supervise the inspection of as many as four 
ships, but usually fewer than that and on many days, no ship 
arrived. He also mentions the occasional morning when "three 
or four vessels happen to have arrived at once, — usually from 
Africa or South America." 30 

29 Ibid., Harvey Parsons to James K. Polk, October 29, 1845, G.W. 
Atherton to Robert J. Walker, December 19, 1845, George Bancroft to B.F. 
Hallett, February 2, 1846. Significant new evidence of Bancroft's seminal role 
in Hawthorne's appointment can be found in The Centennial Edition of the 
Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, 16+ vols. (1962- ), The Letters, 
1843-1853, Thomas Woodson et al., eds., (Columbus, Ohio: 1985), vol. XVI, 
pp. 143n. and 148n. 

30 Nathaniel Hawthorne entries, April 21, 1846, Salem Customhouse 
Ledger, Salem Customhouse Records, Salem Maritime National Historical 
Site, Salem, Massachusetts. All references to "The Custom-House" Intro- 
duction to The Scarlet Letter are from the Modern Library edition (New York, 
1926). The quotations here are from pp. 3-4. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Hawthorne said that his life changed "that fine morning, I 
ascended the flight of granite steps, with the President's com- 
mission in my pocket." 31 He claimed — not entirely correctly — 
that he "ceased to be a writer of tolerably poor tales and essays, 
and had become a tolerably good Surveyor of Customs." 32 The 
truth was that he continued to write and to publish in those three 
years when he spent his mornings on the docks, although he 
complained to Henry Wads worth Longfellow that his "fore- 
noons in the Custom House" undid him effectively for the rest of 
the day. 33 He spent his mornings "pacing from corner to corner, 
or lounging on the long-legged stool, with his elbow on the desk, 
and his eyes wandering up and down the columns of the morning 
newspaper." In time, he added, he became "as good a Surveyor 
as need be." 34 

With the security of a monthly income beyond his expenses, 
Hawthorne was making more money than he ever had before and 
therefore was able to care for his wife and child without worry 
for the first time in a long time, but he still chafed at his claimed 
loss of creativity. "Literature, its exertions and objects, were now 
of little moment in my regard. I cared not, at this period, for 
books: they were apart from me." Yet, he acknowledged, he 
studied nature — "human nature" — and stored up experiences 
and insights into character that would help infuse The Scarlet 
Letter with some of its most luminous qualities. 35 At the same 
time he caught beautifully the operation of the customs estab- 
lishment in introducing the reader of that work to the world of 
Salem and the inhabitants' Puritan values. 

The customhouse was a world of its own, a world of the old, 
the secure, the smug, and the inbred. "On ascending the steps" 
to the customhouse, Hawthorne wrote, one saw "in the entry, if 

31 "The Custom-Housel' p. 11. 
32 Ibid., p. 42. 

33 Nathaniel Hawthorne to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, November 11, 
1847, Longfellow Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University. 
34 "The Custom-House^' pp. 6 and 28. 
35 Ibid., p. 28. 


Customs in the Age of Jackson 

it were summer time, or in their appropriate rooms, if wintry?' a 
"row of venerable figures?' with "old-fashioned chairs, which 
were tipped on their hind legs back against the wall. Oftentimes 
they were asleep, but occasionally might be heard talking 
together, in voices between speech and a snore, and with that 
lack of energy that distinguishes the occupants of almshouses, 
and all other human beings who depend for subsistence on 
charity, or monopolized labor." These "old gentlemen— seated, 
like Matthew, at the receipt of customs, but not very likely to be 
summoned thence, like him, for apostolic errands — were 
Custom-House officers." 36 

When a ship turned up, they moved to action "with lightsome 
hearts, and the happy consciousness of being usefully employed, 
—in their own behalf, at least, if not for our beloved country, 
— these good old gentlemen went through the formalities of 
office." Down to the water the troop went; "sagaciously, under 
their spectacles, did they peep into the holds of vessels! Mightily 
was their fuss about little matters, and marvellous, sometimes, 
the obtuseness that allowed greater ones to slip through their 
fingers!" Offending vessels, a disgruntled Hawthorne observed, 
would be locked and "double lock[ed], and secure with tape and 
sealing wax" — all this after a "wagonload of valuable merchan- 
dise had been smuggled ashore" from the offending ship, 
"directly beneath their unsuspicious noses." 37 Sometimes, he 
added, the slippage may have been intentional, for "neither the 
front nor the back entrance of the Custom-House opens on the 
road to Paradise." 38 

And where did the new officer fit into this scheme? Awk- 
wardly. "There I was, a Surveyor of the Revenue, and as far as I 
have been able to understand, as good a Surveyor as need be." 
None of the sea captains, merchants, and fellow customs 
employees with whom he worked daily "had ever read a page of 

36 Ibid., pp. 5-6. 
37 Ibid., pp. 15-16. 
38 Ibid., p. 13. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

my inditing, or would have cared a fig the more for me if they 
had read them at all; nor would it have mended the matter, in the 
least, had those same unprofitable pages been written with a pen 
like that of Burns or Chaucer, each of whom was a Custom 
House officer in his day, as well as I." 39 

Hawthorne insisted that he did not fit in politically either. "I 
was not appointed to office as a reward for political services, nor 
have I acted as a politician since!' he claimed. 40 He was instead 
an "inoffensive man of letters who had obtained a pitiful little 
office on no other plea than his pitiful literature." 41 When the 
Whigs, who came to power in 1849, decided to give his job to 
one of their own, Hawthorne was shocked. He was, after all, a 
literary man who sought the security of the customhouse only to 
feed his family while he pursued his craft. 

His contemporaries (and his biographers) were skeptical. 
Hawthorne himself had left a paper trail to the contrary. Shortly 
after taking office in 1846, he had written to Treasury Secretary 
Robert J. Walker recommending the removal of two "incom- 
petent" inspectors. His own nominees were "capable and effi- 
cient men" he pointed out, and "firm friends of the 
administration." 42 Later that same year he added his name to a 
petition asking that "a gentleman well known and highly 
respected in the Democratic party replace a certain Whig in the 
federal service." 43 In April 1847, he commended to Walker a 
candidate who had been cleared in "compliance with recommen- 
dations from Mr. [Robert] Rantoul [the Massachusetts Demo- 
cratic kingpin], and other prominent friends of the 

39 Ibid., pp. 28-29. 

^Nathaniel Hawthorne to George Hilliard, March 5, 1849, The Cente- 
nary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Woodson, et al., eds., 
vol. XVI, p. 263. 

41 Nathaniel Hawthorne to George Hilliard, March 5, 1849, in Moncure 
Conway, Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne (London: 1890), pp. 111-12. 

42 Nathaniel Hawthorne to Robert J. Walker, May 21, 1846, The Cente- 
nary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Woodson et al., eds, vol. 
XVI, p. 160. 

43 Ibid., Nathaniel Hawthorne et al. to James Miller, circa October 14, 
1846, vol. XVI, p. 184. 


Customs in the Age of Jackson 

administration." u Hawthorne even boasted of his plots and 
schemes, writing in "The Custom House" that "I must plead 
guilty to the charge of abbreviating the official breath of more 
than one of these venerable servants of the republic. They were 
allowed, on my representation, to rest from their arduous 
labors." 45 

In June 1849 Hawthorne lost his commission. Although all 
that happened was that Hawthorne failed the political test he 
had so often applied to others, he still denied his role in local 
politics. "I never in my life walked in a torch-light procession^' 
he assured his readers, and "would hardly have done anything so 
little in accordance with my tastes and character, had the results 
of the Presidential election depended on it." Besides, he re- 
minded them, the collector had more to say about appointments 
than he did. 46 

Hawthorne's fame made his removal a national as well as a 
local affair. The controversy which had begun with his political 
disclaimers soon grew into arguments about America's obliga- 
tion to support its artists. The Democratic press was predictably 
sympathetic to his cause. The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin 
called Hawthorne one of the few "glorious souls" who was 
"above the prejudices of the time." It was criminal to take away 
the job of a man who earned his living "by that most torturing 
of all vocations, the rack and tear of the brain." The Albany 
Atlas thought it "disgusting" that "the gentle Elia of our 
American literature" be removed. And William Cullen Bryant's 
New York Evening Post described Hawthorne's firing as "an act 
of wanton and unmitigated oppression by the Whigs." 47 

44 Ibid., Nathaniel Hawthorne to Robert J. Walker, April 28, 1847, vol. 
XVI, p. 211. 

45 Hawthorne, "The Custom-House'' p. 13. 

46 Nathaniel Hawthorne to George S. Hilliard, June 18, 1849, Boston 
Daily Advertiser, June 21, 1849. This letter was first published in Hilliard's 
Salem Advertiser and later either reprinted or commented upon in newspa- 
pers in the Northeast. 

47 New York Evening Post, June 22, 1849; Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, 
June 15, 1849; and Albany Atlas, June 17, 1849. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

The Whigs, of course, used this argument to plead their case. 
The Salem Register acknowledged that Hawthorne was not a 
"particularly obnoxious" party man, and rejoiced that his removal 
freed him from the "disturbing influences" of his Democratic 
cohorts and allowed him to "turn his undivided attention to the 
cultivation of his fine talent by which he can confer a higher and 
more lasting benefit to the public, than by his services as Surveyor." 
Besides, the Register added malignly, Hawthorne had been brows- 
ing on the public clover long enough. 48 

Hawthorne's supporters kept the affair alive with a barrage 
of letters to the press and to public officials. Bryant reported in 
the Evening Post that Hawthorne had "received his appointment 
from Mr. Bancroft as a tribute to his literary position entirely^ 
noting that the salary allowed the author "to continue the 
exercise of those rare talents which have contributed so much to 
the delight of his countrymen for many years." The loss of that 
salary to fulfill some political agenda disturbed the New York 
publisher and writer. 49 A fellow townsman assured Treasury 
Secretary William Meredith that Hawthorne's job was "a neces- 
sity to him." 50 George Ticknor also warned the Secretary that 
Hawthorne's removal "throws him back again to poverty." 51 
And George Hilliard wrote to Senator Daniel Webster to plead 
for Hawthorne's reinstatement. The loss of the job exposed the 
author to "absolute want." 52 

Hilliard's letter raised another issue that clouded the Haw- 
thorne debate. "Surely^' he wrote, "the patronage of letters and 
of men of letters is an honorable thing to the country." 53 The 
press also advocated patronizing the arts as a proper responsi- 
bility of government. The case was stated best by the educator 

48 Salem Register, June 11, 1849. 

49 New York Evening Post, June 22, 1849. 

50 Amory Holbrook to William Meredith, June 12, 1849, Personnel File 
of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Notable Persons File, U.S. Treasury Department 
Records, RG 56, National Archives. 

51 Ibid., George Ticknor to William Meredith, June 19, 1849. 

52 Ibid., George Hilliard to Daniel Webster, June 20, 1849. 

53 Ibid., George Hilliard to Daniel Webster, June 20, 1849. 


Customs in the Age of Jackson 

Horace Mann, who was also a Whig Congressman — and Haw- 
thorne's brother-in-law. After telling Secretary Meredith that 
Hawthorne had neither gained nor used his job for political 
ends, he went on to describe the European practice of supporting 
artists in order to further the arts. "In this country, too," he 
asked, "is not literary merit ... a fair ground of appointment 
to office, and of holding it when appointed?" The President 
"has no literary offices or honors to bestow^' he continued, and 
"except through the Patent Office, the administration can hardly 
recognize such things as literature or science. If then, in its 
appointments," Mann concluded, "it shows no affinity, no 
sympathy, no regard, for men of distinguished scientific achieve- 
ments or literary merit, does it not write itself down?" Haw- 
thorne himself, Mann concluded, "held it morally wrong to 
administer it [his position] as a politician." 54 John L. O'Sull- 
ivan, editor of the United States Magazine and Democratic 
Review, was more pungent than the tactful Horace Mann: People 
like Hawthorne should be cherished and nurtured by govern- 
ment; those who would remove such as Hawthorne were the kind 
who would as well "broil a hummingbird, and break a harp to 
pieces to make the fire." 55 

Despite Hawthorne's removal, the practice of naming literary 
figures to customs posts was commonplace, both before and 
after 1849. Customs employees in the Jacksonian era included 
poet William Davis Gallagher, historian George Bancroft, and 
actors and playwrights Mordecai Noah, Thomas Abthorpe 
Cooper, and James Nelson Barker. In the years from 1850 to just 
prior to the Civil War, 56 historians and scholars Noah Brooks 
and Richard Grant White found homes in Customs, as did 
writers Herman Melville, Charles F. Briggs, and J. Ross Browne. 

54 Ibid., Horace Mann to William Meredith, July 5, 1849. 

55 Ibid., John L. O'Sullivan to William Meredith, June 22, 1849. 

56 For this information, Michael N. Ingrisano combed Treasury Depart- 
ment appointment records, turning up more than 50 American cultural 
figures who held appointments beginning in the Age of Jackson. See also his 
Biographical Directory of the U.S. Customs Service, 1771-1989, 2 vols. 
(Washington D.C.: 1985-1986). 


The U.S. Customs Service 

As for Hawthorne, he was embarrassed and embittered by 
the furor he had caused. He shrank at having his finances aired 
in public and recoiled from the praises his supporters sang. Most 
troublesome of all, however, were the attacks of local Whigs. 
Charles Upham's was the worst. Upham patronizingly consigned 
Hawthorne to literature for his own good. The author's support- 
ers "ought to be thankful," the Salem politician wrote, "that Mr. 
Hawthorne is withdrawn and delivered from influences and 
connections that made him officially responsible for acts most 
uncongenial with his nature, and unworthy of the reputation, as 
one of the most amiable and elegant writers of America." 57 

But Hawthorne had his revenge. "I must confess^ he had 
written to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, that his pending 
removal "stirs up a little of the devil within me." If his enemies 
in Salem succeeded, he added, "I will surely immolate one or 
two of them." And indeed, he did "select a victim;' in his own 
words, in fact, more than one. "If they [Whig enemies] will pay 
no reverence to the imaginative power when it causes herbs of 
grace and sweet-scented flowers to spring up along their path- 
way, then they should be taught what it can do in the way of 
producing nettles, skunk-cabbage, deadly night-shade, wolf's 
bane, dog-wood." Hawthorne almost hoped to be "turned out, 
so as to have an opportunity" of taking literary revenge. "I have 
often thought that there must be a good deal of enjoyment in 
writing personal satire; but never having felt the slightest ill-will 
towards any human being, I have hitherto been debarred from 
this particular source of pleasure." 58 

He did not deny himself the pleasure in this instance. His 
wife suggests that the author chose five victims, Upham primary 
among them. Hawthorne scholars concluded that the author had 
Upham in mind when he drew the unflattering character of 
Roger Chillings worth in The Scarlet Letter. If the literary 

57 Note on Upham's "Memorial" in The Centenary Edition of the Works 
of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Woodson et al., eds., vol. XVI, pp. 294-95n. 

58 Ibid., Nathaniel Hawthorne to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, June 5, 
1849, pp. 269-72. 


Customs in the Age of Jackson 

scholars are correct, then Upham, through Chillings worth, did 
indeed "writhe before the grin of the multitude for a consider- 
able time to come." 59 

As both Hawthorne's experience and that of the New York 
City customhouse demonstrate, events in the Age of Jackson 
always seem to come out larger than life. It was more than a 
colorful era for the history of the nation and of the U.S. 
Customs Service. The period from 1825 to 1850 was a period of 
significant growth in the size of the agency, when Customs 
returned ever greater increments of revenue to the U.S. Treasury, 
as new tariff acts dramatically increased charges on the imports 
over which the Customs Service provided. Only the federal land 
banks in the West came close to customs as a source of national 
revenue. As size and function grew apace, so did the continuing 
tradition of politicization; Jackson's spoils system extended and 
deepened the exploitation of the Customs Service as a repository 
for political appointments. There was, unfortunately, no com- 
mensurate growth in administrative measures emanating from 
either the executive or the congressional branch to allow the 
agency to better control its own destiny. The trauma of the Civil 
War would delay even further many of those much-needed 
administrative and political reforms. 



Chapter V 

AND DISRUPTION, 1850-1865 

The Civil War is widely perceived by Americans to have been 
the single most traumatic episode in their history. Obviously, the 
Customs Service was hardly at the war's center, yet it reflected 
internally the stresses of a fratricidal conflict that affected so 
much of the life of the nation. The decade before the Civil War 
was characterized by weakening national leadership, the political 
infirmities reaching right into the White House, where a series of 
ineffective Presidents presided. Congress was always preoccupied 
with the grave questions surrounding the future of slavery. Thus, 
necessary reform of the Customs Service, along with most other 
matters of significance on the national agenda, was simply 
delayed. There was one favorable development; at last, a Com- 
missioner of Customs was in place, although his role was 

Neither he nor anyone else could prevent the chaos that 
affected border customs posts in the face of impossible enforce- 
ment demands. Things were even worse for the fledgling Cus- 
toms Service of the Confederacy. The wartime Union blockade 
of the southern ports all but froze Confederate trade. Both 
customs services, in short, had more than enough worries on 
their plates, mirroring to a degree the misery that war imposed 
on both sides. 


The U.S. Customs Service 
Administration and Enforcement 

Sporadic budget constraints in the 1850's curbed the Customs 
Service's employment of special agents, or at least it chilled any 
effort to regularize their appointments in either the agency or the 
Treasury Department. Still, this particular initiative, dating back to 
the Jacksonian era, persisted. Agents appeared in various forms: 
some were specialists new on the scene to face new complexities of 
enforcement; others, the long-standing ad hoc special agents. These 
specialists worked directly for the Treasury Department but were 
apparently always assigned to customs enforcement. "Secret In- 
spectors," the recent History of Enforcement by the Customs 
Service has concluded, "operating undercover and in a loose 
'organization' largely controlled by the Secretary of the Treasury, 
fulfilled their purpose early in the country's and in Customs' 
history, when the frontiers were thinly populated and vulnerable to 
smugglers determined to evade the law." ' 

The use of confidential agents had been cut back and 
codified in 1847. There could be only one "at any one port of 
entry," and his compensation, including per diem and mileage, 
could not exceed $1,200 per year. Despite Treasury Secretary 
Robert D. Walker's ruling, however, the use of secret agents not 
only persisted but clearly surged. In 1853 Walker's successor, 
James Guthrie, complained that "lately, the number of such 
appointments had greatly increased," and he ordered their 
employment "discontinued." That did not happen. Only the 
word "secret" disappeared temporarily from the Treasury lexi- 
con, replaced by one or another of the euphemisms for the same 
position mentioned earlier. 2 

The picture is fairly clear for the 1850's: Despite repeated 
Cabinet-level efforts to cut back ad hoc appointments, the 
realities of customs enforcement and the increasing complexity 

Michael N. Ingrisano, Jr., A History of Enforcement in the United 
States Customs Service, 1789-1875 (Washington, D.C.: 1986), chapter 4, pp. 

2 Ibid., chapter 4, pp. 11-15. 


Customs and the Civil War 

of policing the nation's borders made the use of new agents 
inevitable. In 1853, for example, the Customs Service used 
mounted inspectors along the Southwestern border to try to 
collect duty on cattle crossing from Mexico into the States. 3 

By 1850 also, Customs was using special examiners of drugs 
to enforce an 1848 law. In Salem, Massachusetts, for example, 
C.H. Pinkham, a local apothecary, was on call to visit incoming 
ships and examine and test substances awaiting clearance as 
either spice or medication, before allowing the vessels to land. 
Inasmuch as an esoteric skill was required, the drug examiners 
were paid $1,000 per year to be on call and an additional fee for 
each assignment. 4 

The position of appraiser of merchandise was introduced in 
the port of New York in the Jacksonian period. In 1854, the job 
was expanded and regularized. By 1865 appraisers were at work 
in all major ports, evaluating ever more complex imports in 
order to tax a widening range of goods as demanded by 
far-reaching tariff laws. 5 Even the rapid expansion of this arm of 
enforcement could not keep up with sophisticated efforts at 
circumvention. "Scarcely an invoice reaches us," complained the 
appraiser at Boston in 1863, about a well-known ploy for 
remission of duties, "without our being called to Examine with 
a view to an allowance for damage." This was a common 

3 Ibid., chapter 3, pp. 3-7, and note 11. Also U.S. Treasury Department, 
Bureau of Customs, "Proceedings of the Collectors of Customs Held in 
Washington, D.C., January 23, 24, 1934," unpublished transcript in the 
Archives of the U.S. Customs Service, Washington, D.C. The patrols 
continued for over a century, supplemented in the 1920's and '30's by aircraft 
and automobiles, generally seized when abandoned by smugglers. 

4 Report of the Collector of New Orleans Customhouse, 1861, F.H. 
Hatch Collection, Beineke Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; 
G.H. Pinkham to William B. Pike, February 27 and March 14, 1861, Salem 
Custom House Papers, 1861 File, Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts; 
Salem Directory, 1866 . . . A Business Directory (Salem, Mass.: 1866), p. 

5 Senate Executive Document 2, 33d Cong., 2d Sess., p. 13, December 4, 
1854, Executive Journals of the Senate of the United States; U.S. Customs 
Service, A History of the Appraiser of Merchandise, 1789-1966 (Washington, 
D.C: 1984), chapter 3, p. 21. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

complaint about a well-known dodge to gain, in effect, remis- 
sion of customs duties. 6 

From 1798 onward, customs collectors in designated ports 
were also directors of marine hospitals. Marine hospital admin- 
istration involved imposing and enforcing quarantine of incom- 
ing shipping, collection of seamen's contributions of 20 cents a 
month for coverage (payable upon arrival in port), and mainte- 
nance of the hospital buildings themselves (in Salem and New 
Orleans, for example). The Civil War would greatly expand this 
responsibility as the Navy and Merchant Marine rapidly in- 
creased in size and the number of sailors requiring care multi- 
plied. As usual, the collector could count on little additional 
help to meet this dramatic increase in responsibility. 7 

Periodic budget panic notwithstanding, special agents played 
an increasingly important role in enforcement: because most of 
them were not regular employees of the service but free-lance 
operatives occasionally employed or agents of the Treasury 
Department, the pattern of their significance can only be 
uncovered by specific example. Many administrators and collec- 
tors needed them, but no one seemed able to acknowledge that 
dependence. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase in 1861 made 
frequent use of special agents operating directly under his 
control to try to deal with complex difficulties caused by 
secession and conflicting loyalties. He sent special agent William 
Mellen into Cincinnati in 1861, for example, to report on the 
loyalties of all the river collectors in the area, in this crucial 
border region. 8 In 1863, Chase dispatched Special Agent John 

6 D. Jellison to Z. Goodrich, April 17, 1863, "Customs Damage Cases, 
New York, Philadelphia, Boston, 1863-1864;' Entry 98, RG 56, Treasury 
Department Records, National Archives. 

7 Report of the Collector of the New Orleans Customhouse, 1861, F.H. 
Hatch Collection, Beinecke Library, Yale University, New Haven; Ralph 
Chester Williams, The United States Public Health Service, 1789-1950 
(Washington, D.C.: 1951), pp. 68-71. 

8 Salmon P. Chase to William Mellen, August 8, 1861, "Letters Sent 
Relating to Restricted Commercial Intercourse," BE Series, 1861-1863, Entry 
316, RG 56, Treasury Department Records, National Archives. 


Customs and the Civil War 

Hutchins to New Orleans to look into charges that collector 
William Gray had altered the manifest of the ship Creole so as to 
confiscate and keep smuggled cigars; he was also accused of 
mismanaging public money and of selling a customs boat and 
pocketing the proceeds. Hutchins concluded that the evidence 
against Gray was circumstantial and that the charges against him 
may have been personally or politically motivated, so he recom- 
mended that Washington take no action for the time being. For 
this duty he was paid $6 per day and 10 cents a mile for the travel 
involved. Given this pittance, it is a wonder that Hutchins 
himself remained devoted to his job. 9 

Certainly the most intriguing — and perhaps the most 
adept — of the special operatives was Charles P. Cooper, who 
also worked directly for the Treasury Department in the 1850's. 
His last known assignment for the U.S. Treasury was in April 
1860; less than a year later, in March 1861, he took on a similar 
assignment for Christopher Memminger, Confederate Secretary 
of the Treasury. U.S. Secretary Howell Cobb dispatched Cooper 
in the first instance to travel southward sub rosa to report on the 
loyalties and competence of some Southern customs officers. 
The special agent wrote from Vicksburg, Mississippi, in Febru- 
ary 1860 that "the Surveyor's office remains, as frequently 
reported, in not a very well organized condition, The cause is the 
want of a head." Although he visited the customhouse several 
times over a couple of weeks, Cooper added, "I have never yet 
met the Surveyor." At the end of March, he wired Cobb 
enigmatically from Tuscumbia, Alabama, "Abolish this post. I 
will report further." In his last known report to the U.S. Treasury 
on April 2, he wrote that "there is nothing being done" at 
Tuscumbia. The surveyor is "absent from his post . . . and has 
not been [seen] for a year or two." 10 

9 Report of John Hutchins, June-August, 1863, Report and Related 
Papers Regarding the Operation of the New Orleans Customhouse, Entry 
252, RG 56, Treasury Department Records, National Archives. 

10 Charles P. Cooper to Howell Cobb, February 10, March 30, and April 
2, 1860, "Letters and Reports Received by the Secretary of the Treasury From 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Given Cooper's inability to find customs surveyors on duty in 
1860, he may have figured that he could only go up by joining 
the Confederate Treasury Department. In any case, a year later, 
in 1861, he was one of the first appointees to a Division of 
Special Agents created by the Treasury Department of the 
Confederate States of America. From the sad plight of the 
Confederate Customs Service, as we shall see, Cooper might not 
have found many surveyors in the course of his travels for the 
Confederacy, either. Anyway, his first assignment in 1861 was to 
secretly investigate the Savannah, Georgia, customhouse; having 
done this, he went on to the customhouses at Atlanta and 
Athens, Georgia, Florence, South Carolina, and Norfolk, Vir- 
ginia. Occasionally he found nothing amiss, but more frequently 
he found — literally — nothing. 11 Cooper's odyssey typified the 
confusion in the Customs Services on both sides at the opening 
of the Civil War. 

Customs and the Beginning of the Civil War: The Union 

By early 1861, the Customs Service was only one of many 
Government agencies facing potential defections as southern 
States began to secede. Charles Cooper was not the only one 
who would switch allegiances, as both Treasury and Customs 
were acutely aware, and they moved to prevent departing offi- 
cials and agents from taking important information with them. 
"To prevent interruption and delay in the dispatch of public 
business;' Assistant Treasury Secretary George Harrington wrote 
Customs Commissioner Samuel Ingham in March, "it is ordered 
that no person except an official of the Department be admitted 
into any of the Rooms of the Treasury Department." And 

Special Agents, 1854-1861," Microfilm Publication M177, roll 3, RG 36, 
National Archives. 

11 Christopher Memminger to Jefferson Davis, March 23, 1861, Mem- 
minger to Charles P. Cooper, April 4, 1861, "Letters Sent by the Confederate 
Secretary of the Treasury;' Microfilm Publication M500, roll 1, RG 65, 
National Archives. 


Customs and the Civil War 

inasmuch as Washington was a border city now, all customs 
employees at headquarters were advised in April that "in case of 
an alarm at night the Clerks and Messengers . . . will make the 
best of their way to the Treasury building." There they would be 
"supplied with arms and ammunition." The intensity of the 
problems caused by secession was brought home to Customs in 
May when Commissioner Ingham was replaced by the much 
more savvy veteran politician and newspaperman Nathan Sar- 
gent. Customs entered the war very much aware of the problems 
that enforcement and loyalty would pose in defending the 
revenue. 12 

In proclaiming a blockade of Confederate ports at the end of 
April 1861, newly inaugurated President Abraham Lincoln 
justified it on the grounds that in southern cities "public 
property . . . has been siezed, the collection of the revenue 
obstructed, and duly commissioned officers of the United 
States . . . have been arrested and held in custody as 
prisoners." 13 "The laws of the United States for the collection 
of revenue'' Lincoln conceded, "cannot be effectually executed" 
in most of the ports of the seceded states. 14 

The question of loyalty became all-consuming in the convul- 
sive days of 1861, as many southern customs officers switched 
allegiance. In August 1861, Chase ordered all collectors of 
customs to administer a new loyalty oath to subordinates and 
warned, "Collectors will promptly report any instance of refusal 
to take and subscribe to the oath in question." The requirement 

12 George Harrington to Samuel Ingham, March 29, April 18, May 16, 
1861, Letters Sent to Heads of Bureaus, 1861-1878, RG 56, Treasury 
Department Records, National Archives. 

13 Abraham Lincoln's Proclamation, April 27, 1861, "Correspondence, 
1859-1861, New London [Connecticut Customhouse]," RG 36, Bureau of 
Customs Papers, Federal Records Center, National Archives, Waltham, 

14 Draft copy of Lincoln's Proclamation, "Letters Sent by the Secretary of 
the Treasury Relating to Restricted Commercial Intercourse, 1861-1867'' 
Microfilm Publication M513, roll 1, RG 56, Treasury Department Records, 
National Archives. This collection is an excellent source for problems of 
enforcement that the Customs Service faced throughout the war. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

was one of a pair of acts spelling out customs procedures in 
hostile and uncertain times. The second provided for the collec- 
tion of duties at any port of entry "in enemy hands." Custom- 
houses, or more properly, points of collection, could be estab- 
lished "in any secure place" in an area, "either on land or on 
board any vessel in said district, or at sea, near the Coast." 
Customs officers, in a provision reminiscent of both the em- 
bargo (1807) and the nullification (1833) crises, were given the 
absolute right to draft nearby Army or Navy units to prevent 
unlawful attempts to evade customs duties or to smuggle goods 
to the Confederacy. Any vessel attempting either would be forfeit 
to the Union. Finally, the law provided that customs collectors 
and surveyors possessed the right to requisition for temporary 
use any vessel at hand, government or private, to enforce the 
law. 15 

The loyalty oath requirement even survived the war. Author 
Herman Melville's personnel file in the Treasury Department 
records reveals that, when he was sworn in as inspector of 
customs in New York at the end of 1866, he had to sign a loyalty 
oath in addition to taking his oath of office. Like all other 
customs employees in this period, he affirmed that he had never 
borne arms against or "voluntarily" given "aid, countenance, 
counsel or encouragement to persons engaged in armed hostil- 
ity" against the United States. Melville, whose grandfather 
Thomas was for many years a customs officer at Salem 
(1789-1814) and at Boston (1814-1830), would remain in the 
Service until 1886. Unable by the 1860's to make a living any 
longer as a writer, he worked for almost 20 years at $4 per day, 
one of nearly 300 inspectors in the New York customhouse. 16 

15 Acts of July 13, August 6, 1861, Circular Letter, Salmon P. Chase to 
Collectors of Customs, August 16, 1861, "Letters Sent Relating to Restricted 
Commercial Intercourse, BE Series, 1861-1863," Entry 316, RG 56, Treasury 
Department Records, National Archives. 

16 Herman Melville's Loyalty Oath and Oath of Office, December 5, 
1866, Melville to E.L. Hedden, June 16, 1886, J.G. Woodbury to George S. 
Boutwell, January 9, 1873, and passim, Melville's Personnel File, RG 56, 
Treasury Department Records, National Archives. 


Customs and the Civil War 

It was left to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase to imple- 
ment both the loyalty oath and the rigorous new customs law. 
Immediately upon taking office, he was caught up in the 
problems of customs enforcement in crisis circumstances. The 
first duty of a collector, Chase made clear, was to prevent trade 
with the enemy. "No permit of any collector^ he cautioned all 
Union ports, "is of any validity as a sanction to intercourse." All 
goods "going to or coming from a state under insurrectionary 
control, and every vessel . . . to or from such states is forfeited 
to the United States and must be seized." 17 To make clear the 
penalties of disaffection and — in the eyes of the U.S. Govern- 
ment, disloyalty — customs officers who joined the Confederacy 
were routinely treated as defaulters, enabling the Treasury De- 
partment to confiscate their bonds. Customs collectors in the 
South who remained loyal were authorized to seize Confederate 
property in all ports where it was found, in the name of the 
United States. Presumably such seizures would carry a portion 
of their value as a prize from which loyal customs officers would 
benefit. Carrot and stick at work in the best, and worst, 
traditions of government. 18 

War pressures were nowhere more in evidence than at the 
border ports, some of which lay in a virtual no-man's land 
between Union and Confederacy. Alexandria and Baltimore in 
the East and Louisville and Cincinnati in the West are good 
examples of the high-wire act the Customs Service often had to 
perform at the opening of hostilities. All the regulations in the 
world, and even broad new powers, were not sufficient to stop 
contraband traffic. So compelling was the Confederacy's need 
for northern manufactures, and so ambivalent the border states' 
populations, that the U.S. Customs Service had all it could do 

17 Circular Letter, Salmon P. Chase to Edward Prentis (and all collectors), 
September 3, 1861, "Correspondence, 1859-1861, New London;' RG 36, 
Bureau of Customs Papers, Federal Records Center, National Archives, 
Waltham, Massachusetts. 

18 Salmon P. Chase to Nathan Sargent, October 5, 29, 1861, Letters Sent 
to Heads of Bureaus, 1861-1878, RG 56, Treasury Department Records, 
National Archives. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

just to keep the lid on the flow of contraband from North to 

For U.S. Customs, the agony of uncertainty in these first 
months of the war was evident in the border port of Alexandria, 
Virginia. The Union Navy's commanding presence on the Poto- 
mac and the Chesapeake Bay helped the Union to retain control 
of this rebel town and its port and customhouse. Collector 
Henry F. Dixon's strong sense of duty to his oath as a federal 
officer conflicted with his deep personal allegiance to his native 
Virginia. For nine months he stayed on, adhering to his orders to 
keep the customhouse open to "vessels from northern ports" and 
to enforce all U.S. revenue laws. By the end of 1861, though, 
Dixon had either defected or been removed because of his 
suspect loyalty. The fragile hold the Union had on the port was 
brought home in the instruction of the Secretary of the Treasury 
issued to the new collector, Andrew Jameson, who was told that 
a special agent was being assigned to Alexandria in order to 
enforce "suppression of treasonable correspondence with the 
insurgents." The unnamed agent "may occasionally need your 
assistance and you will render him any aid" he might require. 19 

The complexities of enforcement heaped on the Customs 
Service were also graphically brought home by the example of 
Baltimore, one of the most sensitive of border ports. Even using 
anonymous tips and the detective work of special agents, the new 
collector, Henry W. Hoffman, still had his hands full. He had 
replaced John T. Mason, whose loyalties were to the Confederacy, 
on April 15, 1861. Within weeks Hoffman was caught up in 
intrigue. On May 3, Chase ordered him "to grant no clearance to 
vessels destined for ports in the States which have been declared 
under blockade." Baltimore was, as always, the major transfer 
point for goods passing from North to South. A few days later 

19 Salmon P. Chase to Henry F. Dixon, May 30, 1861, Chase to Andrew 
Jameson, January 25, 1862, "Letters Sent by the Secretary of the Treasury 
Relating to Restricted Commercial Intercourse, 1861-1867," Microfilm Pub- 
lication M513, roll 1, RG 56, Treasury Department Records, National 


Customs and the Civil War 

Hoffman was warned to watch out for a shipment of "Henderson's 
Propellers" (ship's propellers of northern manufacture which were 
desperately needed by the Confederacy) being routed through 
Baltimore. An anonymous tipster had said that a ship carrying the 
contraband would clear Baltimore for a Chesapeake port under 
Union control, but would try to put in to one or the other of the 
small Virginia harbors still in the grip of the Confederacy. 20 

By June, Hoffman's duties went far beyond those of a 
customs officer in normal times. "There is reason to believe^ 
Chase wrote, "that there is a large quantity of goods now being 
shipped from Baltimore on board the schooner Mt. Vernon, 
ostensibly intended for Fall Pine, St. Mary's County, Maryland, 
but really en route for Virginia." To find out what was really 
being shipped and to cut off a nascent smuggling route, "it is 
thought that you might if practicable without exciting suspicion 
place on board the vessel as passenger a confidential customs 
officer with instructions to seize the vessel and cargo." At the 
same time, the customhouse, as the most secure government 
establishment in Baltimore, was used as an armory, with stacks 
of Winchester rifles held under guard on the premises, under the 
direct supervision of the collector. 21 Both Hoffman and his 
surveyor on the Potomac, Jonathan Jilton, reported frequently 
about their attempts to find "the most effectual means of 
putting an end to the illicit trade which is still said to be carried 
on across the Potomac, despite all the vigilance and means thus 
far employed for its complete suppression." 22 

Even as late as mid- 1862 Jilton virtually acknowledged that 
measures to date had not interdicted the illegal passage of goods 
to the South. Trade between Virginia and Maryland was ram- 
pant, and the Baltimore customs district had responsibility for 

2U Ibid., Salmon P. Chase to Henry W. Hoffman, May 3 and 7, 1861. 

21 Ibid., Salmon P. Chase to Henry W. Hoffman, June 5, 8, and 12, 1861. 

22 Henry W. Hoffman to Salmon P. Chase, July 3, 1862, "Letters 
Received by the Secretary of the Treasury by the Collectors of Customs, 
1833-1869;' Microfilm Publication Ml 74, roll 200, RG 56, Treasury Depart- 
ment Records, National Archives. This collection also is a treasure trove of 
information on Customs and the Civil War. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

the Potomac River. It could not handle it without more help, 
reported Jilton, the man on the spot in charge of the Potomac 
customhouse. He wanted a "military squad" placed at "different 
points on the river." There would be "two intelligent soldiers 
. . . stationed at each point" stopping each vessel and reporting 
identities to the customhouse. If they had not cleared, the 
surveyor "could give the revenue cutters notice to capture them." 
Jilton concluded that no fewer than 12 or 14 landings on the 
Maryland side should be patrolled. 23 

"Almost dailyj' Collector Henry Hoffman reported, in sum- 
marizing conditions in the parent customs establishment in 
Baltimore, "we have information of goods being shipped from 
this port to Virginia in our Maryland craft. In some instances we 
have arrested the parties'' but, he added, "too many get off." As 
in other ports on the fringes of the Confederacy, there were not 
enough officers to do the job, given the Confederate sympathies 
of much of the Maryland population. 24 Not enough agents and 
the disloyalty of border people were widespread complaints in 
ports on the fringes of the Confederacy. 

The western borders fared no better, as events on the Ohio 
River demonstrated. Chase received reports in 1861 that goods 
destined for the Confederacy were regularly being shipped down 
the Ohio, clearing Cincinnati customs, and finding smooth 
sailing thereafter. The Treasury Secretary was furious, and he let 
the surveyor know it. "It is reported," Chase wrote, "that the 
agents appointed by you for the purpose of preventing this 
traffic are in the habit of passing their time playing cards and in 
other amusements to the entire neglect of their duties." Only 
Chase's own special agent could have ferreted out this detail; he 
asked the Cincinnati surveyor to report to him forthwith. 25 

23 Ibid., Jonathan Jilton to Henry W. Hoffman, July 30, 1862. 

24 Ibid., Henry W. Hoffman to Chase, July 9, 1861. 

25 Salmon P. Chase to E. Carson, December 6, 1861, "Letters Sent by the 
Secretary of the Treasury Relating to Restricted Intercourse, 1861-1867," 
Microfilm Publication M513, roll 1, RG 56, Treasury Department Records, 
National Archives. 


Customs and the Civil War 

Sometimes, as at Louisville, problems on the Ohio were less 
pressing. Chase, involved in every detail of customs operations, 
it would seem, instructed Surveyor Charles Cotton to turn over 
to Confederate agents a shipment of bibles, after first checking 
the boxes carefully to make sure there was "nothing else besides 
Bibles" in the consignment. Bibles seemed to be the scam of 
choice for river smugglers in the West. The Washington City 
Bible Society in 1863 asked Treasury for permission to send 
20,000 bibles to the "rebellious States." Chase responded with 
grim humor that "I cheerfully lend my aid . . . to the modest 
possible dissemination of the Gospel," but added that "disloyal 
or unscrupulous persons" would not hesitate to send "percussion 
caps and other contraband articles to the enemies" along with 
the good books. Thus, he told the Bible Society, the boxes and 
books would have to be opened and "examined by and packed 
under the supervision of a Custom House officer ... to 
prevent their being tampered with on the route." 26 The Ohio 
River simply posed an insuperable problem, given the sympa- 
thies of the local population and the impossibility of cutting off 
water and overland traffic in a landscape pocked with so many 
opportune spots. 

Chase learned from special agents that goods cleared through 
Louisville for southern Kentucky were actually taken from the 
railroad cars at Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and transported by 
wagons on back roads into Confederate Tennessee. The Secre- 
tary simply banned clearance of any goods at all for southern 
Kentucky, an area where the population heavily favored the 
enemy. And by November 1861 the Louisville customhouse was, 
like Baltimore, doing duty as a Union arsenal, housing large 
stores of rifles for General William T. Sherman. 27 

26 Ibid., Salmon P. Chase to Charles Cotton, August 24, September 2, 
1861; Chase to M.H. Miller, June 26, 1863, "Letters Sent Relating to 
Restricted Commercial Intercourse," BE Series, 1861-1863, Entry 316, Trea- 
sury Department Records, National Archives. 

27 Ibid., Salmon P. Chase to Charles Cotton, September 10 and Novem- 
ber 1, 1861. 


The U.S. Customs Service 
Customs and the Coming of the War: The Confederacy 

As difficult as it was for the U.S. Customs Service to operate 
in the opening months of the war, its problems pale in compar- 
ison to the exigencies under which Confederate customs oper- 
ated. In February 1861 the newly convened Confederate Con- 
gress's Committee on Commercial Affairs, meeting in secret 
session, recommended that the Treasury Secretary undertake a 
comprehensive investigation into the effectiveness of the new 
Confederate Customs Service. Although the Confederacy ex- 
pected little customs revenue in the face of the Union blockade, 
a customs service was viewed as an important symbol of national 
sovereignty and identity, so it must exist, revenue or no. In light 
of the reality, however, the Confederate Congress asked Treasury 
Secretary Christopher Memminger "to make a reduction in the 
expense of each customs-house of at least 25 per cent within the 
next Six Weeks, and to continue all the officers in that period." 
Memminger turned the task over to Charles Cooper, the former 
U.S. secret agent and, by February 1861, the head of the 
Confederate Treasury Department's Division of Special Agents. 
All Confederate customs officers, in the meantime, must post 
new bonds, for "neither the former [U.S.] bonds nor oaths 
would avail them anything under the new appointment," if they 
had formerly been U.S. customs officers. 28 

As Memminger and the Confederate Congress both knew at 
the outset, customs would pose tremendous problems. Expenses 
for salaries and maintenance of customhouses were fixed, and 
costs would be far too high, given the paucity of revenue 
collected. Yet by April the decision had been made to retain the 
Service intact as a symbol of Confederate nationality, and the 
collectors were appointed to permanent slots. Cooper had visited 

28 Extracts from the Journals of the [Confederate] Congress (Washington, 
D.C.: 1880), entry for February 14, 1861; Christopher Memminger to 
Jefferson Davis, March 23, 1861, Memminger to Charles P. Cooper, April 4, 
1861, "Letters Sent by the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury?' Microfilm 
Publication M500, roll 1, RG 65, National Archives. 


Customs and the Civil War 

most of the southern customhouses "for the purpose of orga- 
nizing the Customs business;' but some small customhouses 
inevitably fell by the wayside. In April, for example, the port of 
entry at Hardwick, Georgia, was terminated, a victim of the 
Union blockade. 29 

Other ports of call were maintained at high cost, to show the 
Confederate flag. Collector Josiah Bell in Beaufort, South Caro- 
lina, for example, survived port closings even though he reported to 
Memminger in response to an 1862 inquiry: "In answer I have to 
state, that no vessel has entered this Port since the actual establish- 
ment of the blockade, to wit, the 7th of September" 1861 . Nor were 
any vessels permitted to leave port, Bell added. The blockade of 
Beaufort consisted of two steamers, absent for two or three days at 
a time (presumably doing double duty). Inasmuch as Union 
skippers followed no set pattern and were not normally visible from 
land, Bell concluded, "the blockade has been efficient, ingress and 
egress being totally impossible." 30 

The travails of Samuel Beall, the collector at Eastport, 
Mississippi, perhaps demonstrate even more graphically the 
problems facing the infant Confederate Customs Service. Beall 
was appointed collector in March 1861 after posting a bond and 
taking an oath to the Confederate States of America. His first 
request was typical: he noted that he was "engaged in the 
wholesale grocery business at this place and can't sell out 
without great sacrifice." He wanted to stay in business and to 
collect the customs. Getting this concession, he then flooded 
Memminger with queries about renting a customhouse, hiring an 
assistant, and engaging a "Revenue Guard;' the town being too 
small to support a local policeman. He then complained that, 
although there was no effective blockade, ships carrying "du- 

29 Christopher Memminger to Charles P. Cooper, April 4, 1861, Mem- 
minger to Benjamin Stiles, April 13, 1861, "Letters Sent by the Confederate 
Secretary of the Treasury;' Microfilm Publication M500, roll 1, RG 65, 
National Archives. 

30 Josiah Bell to Christopher Memminger, October 12, 1862, "Letters 
Received by the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury, 1861-1865;' Microfilm 
Publication M499, roll 6, RG 365, National Archives. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

tiable goods" were bypassing his Gulf port and going on to 
Corinth, Mississippi, to land because there was no collector in 
that place. In April, he disclosed, a "Crowd" in town "hoisted 
a Union flag on a pole 125 feet high and say that they have 200 
men who intend to die under it sooner than it shall be hauled 
down." In the meantime, although on a small salary, he had 
collected no revenue for the government. Yet the port survived, a 
symbol of Confederate sovereignty in an area that apparently 
harbored extensive sympathy with the Union. 31 

Confederate sympathy did not always extend to nearby 
foreign nations engaging in illegal traffic. 

The Civil War: Customs Problems With Foreign Contraband 

From the beginning of the war, Salmon Chase moved heaven 
and earth to prevent U.S. goods from arriving as contraband in the 
Confederacy via foreign ports. The rich source material available 
on the subject makes it clear that the U.S. Customs Service did a 
first-rate job in heading off most of that contraband. In so doing it 
had to enforce laws that were deeply unpopular with important 
Americans, because of the huge profits in that illicit trade. Some 
few foreign ports were ingeniously exploited in the course of the 
war, despite everything Customs could do to prevent it. Enforce- 
ment was consistent enough and active enough, apparently, to cut 
off most of that trade. 

As early as June 1861, Secretary Chase, in a series of circular 
letters and official communications, laid down some detailed 
rules about trading with the enemy. The key to enforcement was 
his allocation of special powers to collectors and surveyors in the 
most sensitive ports. 32 The countries usually singled out, for 

Ibid., Samuel Beall to Christopher Memminger, April 11 and 17, May 
1 and 16, 1861. 

32 Salmon P. Chase to James C. Sloo (Surveyor, Cairo, Illinois), June 1, 
12, 1861, Chase to Lysander R. Webb (Surveyor, Peoria, Indiana), June 6, 
1861, Chase to William Mellen (Special Agent, Cincinnati), and passim, 


Customs and the Civil War 

obvious reasons, were Mexico and Canada and the Spanish 
colony of Cuba. 

Although many avenues to Mexico were blocked off, Mata- 
moras remained a problem for the entire war. Goods for the 
Confederacy transshipped through Matamoras originated from 
such distant ports as Boston and New York. As early as July 
1861, Chase provided incoming Boston Customs Collector John 
Z. Goodrich with discretionary powers to cut off contraband 
trade originating in Boston and destined for Mexico. If the 
Boston loophole was mostly plugged, as late as 1864, New York 
still offended. "Trade now carried on with the insurgents'' 
General E.R. Canby reported, continued "from New York and 
other Northern ports through the Mexican port of Matamoras." 
It was done very cleverly and on a large scale: "Casks and crates 
of crockery freighted with rifle and musket barrels, bales of 
codfish with the small parts of the arms, kegs of powder in 
barrels of provisions" were "constantly transferred to the insur- 
gents in Texas." 33 Matamoras was hard to shut down. Once 
goods reached there, it was a relatively simple matter to pass 
them overland to Texas. 

Havana, Cuba, also posed a serious enforcement problem, 
although judging by the relative paucity of complaints after 
1861, a diminishing one. Because of its exposed position, Key 
West, Florida, remained in U.S. hands. Union blockade ships 
operating from Key West were always a threat to interdict traffic 
to and from Havana. Complications notwithstanding, the war 
materials manufactured in the North were so desperately needed 
in the South that almost any risk was worthwhile. "I am advised 

"Letters Sent Relating to Restricting Commercial Intercourse;' BE Series, 
1861-1863, Entry 316, RG 56, Treasury Department Records, National 
Archives. This collection is rich in detailed correspondence from the Treasury 
Secretary to customs personnel in general, and specifically strong on the 
subject of dealing with contraband. 

33 Ibid., Salmon P. Chase to John Z. Goodrich, June 19, 1861, Chase to 
William H. Seward, July 30, 1861, Chase to Hiram Barney, July 31, 1861; 
E.R. Canby to Charles Halleck, December 9, 1864, "Correspondence, 
1862-1865, New London," RG 36, Bureau of Customs Papers, Federal 
Records Center, National Archives, Waltham, Massachusetts. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

by the State Department," Secretary Chase wrote Boston Col- 
lector Goodrich in December 1861, "that information has been 
received there, from the Consul at Havana, of the arrival at that 
port of vessels from the ports of the United States, conveying 
munitions of war, concealed in barrels and other packages, 
purporting to contain vegetables and other innocent articles of 
trade." Chase told Goodrich to do whatever was necessary to 
nail the ships' masters and "shippers or consigners" guilty of the 
smuggling. The collectors at New York, Baltimore, and Phila- 
delphia got similar letters. 34 Not counting on the blockade, 
Chase wanted to cut off Cuban trade at its sources. 

The Massachusetts ports of Salem and Boston seemed to be the 
most frequent and systematic offenders. Collector Willard Phillips 
at Salem told Chase that, so clever were the community's merchants 
in smuggling gunpowder out of the understaffed port, there was no 
way he could stop it short of supervising the loading of every vessel 
bound for Havana. Hearing this, a disgusted Chase took the simple 
expedient of barring all gunpowder shipments from Massachusetts 
ports bound for Cuba on any pretext whatever, on the ground that 
"the powder finds its way . . . into the hands of insurgents." 
Toward the end of October 1861, Chase expanded his ad-lib 
embargo, telling Salem's collector "to allow no shipments of 
munitions of war of any description, from your port to [all of] the 
West Indies." That informal embargo seemed to have worked to a 
degree to cut the contraband traffic that found its way to the 
Confederacy via the Caribbean. 35 

If the Caribbean loophole was shrunk by the end of 1861, 
enterprising American businessmen found ingenious ways to 
move further southward in search of illegal profits. One partic- 
ularly enterprising scheme involved Central America. As late as 

34 George Harrington to John Z. Goodrich, September 3, 1861, and 
passim, "Letters Sent Relating to Restricting Commercial Intercourse," BE 
Series, 1861-1863, Entry 316, RG 56, Treasury Department Records, Na- 
tional Archives. 

35 Salmon P. Chase to John Z. Goodrich, October 4, 1861, Chase to 
Willard Phillips, October 7 and 22, 1861, Salem Custom House Papers, 1861 
File, Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts. 


Customs and the Civil War 

1863, shippers in San Francisco claimed the lenient privileges of 
coasting regulations (no clearances needed), to ship goods to 
Panama and Nicaragua on small coasting vessels ostensibly 
bound for other Pacific ports. From the Western Isthmus, the 
goods were transported the 10 miles overland to the East Coast 
and then northward to Confederate ports. A harassed Chase 
wrote the San Francisco collector that it was not coasting trade 
if the vessels were secretly offloaded "in foreign territory." He 
found the entire intrigue "peculiar" given the obvious cost of the 
long shipments; clearly, price was not a factor to a munitions- 
starved Confederacy, however. 36 

Canada also remained a thorn in the Union's side. By 
September 1861, the Canadians were suspect. "Has your atten- 
tion been attracted to the large increase in the importations into 
Canada?" a U.S. Senator wrote Chase. "This increase can 
hardly be accounted for by the natural laws of trade. Is there no 
ground for suspicion that the goods are intended to be smuggled 
across our frontier into the Seceded States?" The suspicions were 
all too well founded. "Large cargoes of Block-tin, drugs and 
powder are exported from Boston, for St. John's, New Brun- 
swick, with the intent, it is believed, to forward them to the 
insurgent states by way of Havana," a Treasury Department 
official wrote Boston Collector John Goodrich. 37 

Customs and Treasury: Business and Politics 

Even in the face of towering enforcement problems during 
the most catastrophic war in American history, the business of 

36 Salmon T. Chase to T.G. Phelps, February 16, 1863, Copies of Special 
Letters, 1861-1865, Salmon P. Chase Papers, Historical Society of Pennsyl- 
vania, Philadelphia. 

37 H.B. Anthony to Salmon P. Chase, September 10, 1861, "Letters 
Received from Congress, 1836-1910," Entry 133, RG 56, National Archives; 
George Harrington to John Z. Goodrich, September 3, 1861, "Letters Sent 
Relating to Restricted Commercial Intercourse," BE Series, 1861-1863, Entry 
316, Treasury Department Records, National Archives. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

politics — in New York and elsewhere — went on as usual. The 
teeming port of New York, with its hundreds of customs 
personnel, continued to operate on the edge of the law, despite 
the flight of two notorious collectors and at least two congres- 
sional investigations in the Age of Jackson. The problems were 
so deep-seated — and almost institutionalized in fact by 
1860 — that even the impending crisis did not stop some very 
shoddy practices. 

Hiram Barney was appointed customs collector for the Port 
of New York in 1861, one of the first acts of Treasury Secretary 
Salmon P. Chase. To understand the range of Barney's activities 
within the Customs Service in the Civil War years, it is important 
to understand precisely that money was the basis for the 
relationship between the collector and Chase — a harsh accusa- 
tion, even more than a century later, but one all too self-evident. 
On the day Lincoln was inaugurated, Barney was nominated. 
For weeks before the inauguration, Chase was appalled to learn 
that rumors of a loan from Barney to Chase floated around New 
York City's countinghouses. Incredibly, Chase, in a letter to 
Barney on Inauguration Day, acknowledged the "loan." Deeply 
in debt as he left his native Ohio for Washington, Chase told 
Barney that he used the money to buy and furnish a house in the 
District of Columbia. It "enabled me," Chase wrote, "to pay my 
debt, relieve my property [in Ohio] from encumbrance and make 
sale so as to provide means of payment" for the Washington 
property. The amount of the loan that Chase mentioned was in 
excess of $45,000, and the Secretary acknowledged that Barney 
had "raised the money" from others, presumably within the New 
York merchant community. 38 It is possible that the "loan" was 
repaid, though a cynic would like to see evidence of that. 

38 Salmon P. Chase to Hiram Barney, March 20, 1861, "Copies of Special 
Letters, 1861-1865," Salmon P. Chase Papers, Historical Society of Pennsyl- 
vania, Philadelphia. The authors have not seen this letter cited anywhere else 
in the above context, but it is so clear that the loan at best was unethical — and 
at worst malfeasant — that it is hard to escape the conclusion that Chase 
effectively sold the most lucrative office in the nation to the highest bidder. 


Customs and the Civil War 

Only in this context is it possible to make sense of Barney's 
complex involvement in what amounted to national economic 
matters. He made a fortune; at least one historian believes that 
the Treasury Secretary also made a fortune on his coattails. 39 In 
any event, the range of Barney's activities was astonishing. By 
1863, he was designated "cotton agent" for the Union, the 
recipient of all cotton produced in occupied areas of the South. 
As such, he was authorized to sell it in the name of the 
government, pay off the planters who grew it, and pocket the five 
percent commission on the sale price. By 1863 also, he was the 
government's agent authorized to receive and sell any disposable 
property seized in the South, again taking five percent. This 
specifically included cotton as well as a smorgasbord of other 
goodies ranging from oysters from beds off Virginia to a 
personal library seized at Beaufort, South Carolina. After the 
Emancipation Proclamation, part of Barney's duties included 
oversight of freed black labor engaged in cotton cultivation. This 
was done by means of agents on the spot, whom Barney 
appointed; they were often customs collectors in such places as 
Port Royal and Beaufort, South Carolina, and New Orleans 
(ports already in Union hands). 40 

39 Without going into the wealth of detail that the book provides, 
including the evidence of corruption uncovered by yet another congressional 
committee looking into the activities of the New York customhouse in the 
Civil War, Chase and Barney were locked together in a far-ranging series of 
money-making schemes. See Thomas Graham Belden and Marva Robins 
Belden, So Fell the Angels (Boston: 1956), pp. 102, 104, 134, 140, 201, 
245-46, 264, 274, 277, and 343. The book is a detailed study of Chase's public 
career, and the role of his daughter Kate and that of her husband Senator 
William Sprague of Rhode Island. 

40 For some samples of Barney's complex activities and Chase's relation- 
ship with him, see Salmon P. Chase to William Reynolds, February 28, 1862, 
Chase to Hiram Barney, February 28, August 11, 1862, August 21 and 22, 
1863, and passim, "Letters Sent Relating to Restricted Commercial Inter- 
course;' BE Series, 1861-63, Entry 316, RG 56, Treasury Department 
Records, National Archives; Chase to Barney, undated (between March 18 
and June 25, 1864), Chase to Hannibal Hamlin, June 25, 1864, Copies of 
Special Letters, 1861-1865, Salmon P. Chase Papers, Historical Society of 
Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Barney to Chase, February 20, March 13, 1863, 
T. Hasbrook to Chase, March 25, 1864, and passim, "Damage Cases, New 


The U.S. Customs Service 

All these activities were legal engagements recommended by 
Chase and approved by Congress and the President. Congres- 
sional investigations revealed a whole range of extralegal and 
illegal operations in which Barney was involved. 41 All the income 
accrued from these legal and illegal deals was in addition to 
Barney's emoluments as customs collector for the Port of New 
York, understandably long believed to be the most lucrative post 
in American government. 

If it was a matter of "business as usual" during the Civil War, 
politics also continued as usual, as instances in New York and 
Salem suggest. New York's Republican Century Club sent to 
Chase a list of Republicans whom the political club wanted 
appointed to the customhouse. Chase told the club president 
that he would send the list to Barney, adding "I trust" the local 
Republican party "will [not] have cause to be dissatisfied." Nor 
was it. In the letter to Barney that accompanied the list, Chase 
urged Barney to "expedite removals and appointments a little, so 
as to remove all decent ground of complaint." The Treasury 
Secretary also asked Barney to appoint the brother of a close 
friend, although in general Barney, like his predecessors, was 
given wide latitude in assuaging party interest locally through 
customhouse appointments. 42 

New York was not the only place where politics intruded. In 
Salem, Collector Willard Phillips fined merchant Daniel Jewett 
for a breach of customs law in 1861. The merchant wrote 
indignantly to Chase, asking him "if this is the treatment I am to 
receive for having from the commencement acted a prominent 
part, and subscribed liberally in sum of money to advance the 
interests of the Republican Party." Jewett went on to denounce 
the collector and threatened to make no more contributions to 

York, Philadelphia, Boston, 1863-1864;' Entry 98, RG 56, Treasury Depart- 
ment Records, National Archives. 

41 Ibid. See also Belden and Belden, So Fell the Angels, passim. 

42 Salmon P. Chase to Hiram Barney, May 29, July 15, 1861, Chase to 
W.C. Gould, July 15, 1861, Copies of Special Letters, 1861-1865, and Chase 
Letters and Drafts, 1825-1863, respectively, Salmon P. Chase Papers, Histor- 
ical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. 


Customs and the Civil War 

the party in the future. Phillips defended his action to Treasury 
and noted in advance he would not back down in the face of any 
pressure from Washington. 43 

Willard Phillips' resistance to political pressure was the rule 
and not the exception in the highly charged atmosphere of the 
Civil War years. Once again the U.S. Customs Service found 
itself underfinanced and understaffed, yet asked to implement 
exceptional wartime controls against an enemy only miles away. 
The Customs Service by now was subject to institutionalized 
pressures from a complex patronage system linking the Service to 
the well-being of the political party system; not even the Civil 
War breached that time-tested relationship. The response was 
remarkable under the circumstances, for, by and large, the 
Customs Service kept smuggling within bounds and provided 
important revenue that helped the Government to finance the 
war effort. 

Perhaps the only way to measure its success is to compare it 
with the dismal record of the Confederate Customs Service. In 
the end, however, the Civil War experience fed into a final era of 
rampant political corruption that would cause the backlash that 
produced civil service reform. And reform would catapult the 
Customs Service into the 20th century as a highly professional- 
ized arm of government. 

43 Daniel Jewett to Salmon P. Chase, November 4, 1861, Willard Phillips 
to George Harrington, November 11, 1861, 1861 File, Salem Custom House 
Papers, Essex Institute Historical Collections, Salem, Massachusetts. 


Chapter VI 

AND REFORM, 1865-1900 

The years following the Civil War were years of rampant 
national political dissipation. Under the Grant regime, fiscal and 
political chicanery reached the level of high art, touching not only 
most government agencies including the Customs Service, but 
overtaking Congress, the Cabinet, and the executive branch itself. 
Institutionalized dishonesty throughout the federal government, 
however, triggered an inevitable reaction that resulted in 1883 in the 
Pendleton Civil Service Act. This act was only a beginning, 
however, and civil service reform only gradually cleaned up the 
federal establishment. Despite the rampant dishonesty of these 
years, most customs officers tried to do the right thing; even in New 
York, some attempted to stave off the worst importunities of 
"spoilsmen" who used the customhouse as a patronage and finan- 
cial reservoir, with inevitable erosion of morale and fiscal integrity. 
By 1900, however, the U.S. Customs Service, mostly freed from the 
politicization with which it had had to live for more than a century, 
was at last allowed to stabilize its work force, raise morale, and 
enter the next century as an increasingly professional organization. 

Internal Restructuring: Appraisers, Special Agents, 
and Marine Hospitals 

Civil service reform efforts were accompanied by important 
clarifications of customs operations emanating from Washing- 


The U.S. Customs Service 

ton. The Customs Division as a separate branch within Treasury 
was created informally in 1869. Six years later, in 1875, the 
administrative reform was completed with the official creation of 
the Division of Customs within the Treasury Department. A 
decade later the Division received its first independent congres- 
sional appropriation, a better barometer of its growing auton- 
omy as a unit of government than administrative directives. 

This was a time when, paradoxically, corruption within the 
federal establishment generally — Customs included — was rampant, 
but it was also a period of incipient reform. An early mark of that 
reform was the professionalization of the office of appraiser of 
merchandise. By the end of the Civil War, full-time appraisers were 
at work in the customhouses of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, 
San Francisco, and New Orleans, with the New York appraising 
operation forming the model. An act of 1866 upgraded the position 
and professionalized it, requiring specialized qualifications for the 
position and additional personnel; the act was designed to render 
the appraising function as autonomous as possible, particularly in 
the notorious New York City customhouse, and to give the apprais- 
ers the means to do the job. The appraiser, under new legislation, 
was placed directly under the President and was not answerable to 
the port collector of customs. In 1870 offices of appraisal were 
established in 15 more customhouses in the South and West; seven 
more had been added by 1890. 

In this year, as civil service rules began to take hold, new 
legislation reformed the office again. The new law granted general 
appraisers judicial authority to mediate and resolve disputes be- 
tween merchants and Customs, raised appraisers' salaries to $7,000 
per year, and specified that only five of the nine general appraisers 
authorized in the nation could be from the same political party. If 
some early signals are correct, the restructuring that took place 
between 1870 and 1890 significantly improved customs operations. 
For example, the first new appraiser for New York appointed under 
the 1870 legislation was both an attorney and a long-time business 
manager for the New York Times. As for the 1890 legislation, 
during the first three months after their appointments, 


Corruption and Reform 

the nine new general appraisers cut nearly in half the pending 
backlog of cases in New York and elsewhere. 1 

Despite this auspicious beginning, the appraiser's office, in 
New York at least, soon sank to the level of misuse of trust 
habitually found in the collector's office. 

After years of on-again off-again flirtation with special 
agents, meanwhile, the Treasury Department finally committed 
itself to their employment as customs personnel. They had 
proved invaluable to Salmon Chase during the Civil War, both in 
investigating internal affairs and in ferreting out channels of 
illegal smuggling through Union ports to the Confederacy. 
Nevertheless, at war's end, the Treasury Department was still 
unwilling to commit itself to a permanent force, and special 
agents again virtually disappeared from the customs scene. Only 
in 1870, when legislation approved them for customs, were 
special agents permanently restored to the government rolls. 
From this point, special agents remained a constant force in the 
new Division of Customs. 2 

If one new agency was thus added to the ranks of Customs, 
another passed from its hands after nearly a century of admin- 
istration. Customs was gradually phased out of the marine 
hospitals beginning in 1870; by the 1890's the Marine Hospital 
Service was entirely under the jurisdiction of the new Public 
Health Service. The act of 1798, establishing the Marine Hos- 
pital Service, provided that customs collectors in the ports where 
hospitals were established should collect fees from every arriving 
ship, the fee to be determined in accordance with the number of 
sailors aboard. The money was administered by the collector for 
the relief of sick and disabled seamen, who would be hospital- 
ized in the nearest marine hospital at a heavily subsidized cost to 
the sailor of only 20 cents a day. The collectors paid retainers and 

1 A detailed examination of these administrative reforms can be found in 
Michael N. Ingrisano, Jr., A History of the Appraiser of Merchandise, 
1789-1966 (Washington, D.C.: 1984), chapter 4, pp. 1-3, 7, 9, 18. 

2 Michael N. Ingrisano, Jr., A History of Enforcement in the United States 
Customs Service, 1789-1875 (Washington, D.C.: 1986), chapter 5, pp. 1-2. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

per-patient fees to local physicians to tend the sailors. All 
collectors involved kept meticulous records; in almost 100 years 
of administration, little scandal tainted that trust. 

The operation of the marine hospital at Salem, Massachu- 
setts, followed this general pattern. In addition to the 20 cents 
the patient paid, the Marine Hospital Fund paid $2.50 per day 
for each sailor's treatment. Regional American civilian hospitals 
could not possibly have confronted the range of exotic diseases 
afflicting the seamen, whose average life expectancy was 12 years 
after putting out to sea. An 1851 roster of patients disclosed that 
in one month the Salem Marine Hospital admitted tars ill from 
the effects of African fever, rheumatism, venereal herpes, vari- 
ous exotic forms of scrofula, frostbite, and some fractured bones 
and lung complaints. Every conceivable form of venereal disease 
could usually be found among the ranks. For nearly a century, 
the hospital served also as a refuge or boardinghouse for sailors 
in a strange port. When the government began phasing out the 
hospitals in 1870, fewer and fewer patients were admitted, and 
on March 30, 1893, the Salem Marine Hospital finally closed its 
doors. By government contract, from that date, the Salem 
Hospital in town would accept maritime patients for $2.50 per 
day, agreeing also to "bury patients at $15 each." 3 That was one 
grim task from which every customs collector was glad to be free. 

Customs Before Reform: The Last Hurrah in New York 

Victimized by the absolute reign of political influence as well 
as the general corruption of the Grant administration, the New 

3 For the history of the Salem Marine Hospital, see "Register of Permits to 
Enter Maritime Hospital at Salem" Salem Customhouse Records, Salem Mari- 
time Historic Site, Salem, Massachusetts; Edward L. Millett to Parker Bray, 
March 30, 1893, and Robert Austin to Bray, April 6, 1893, Salem Customhouse 
Correspondence File, Essex Institute Historical Collections, Salem, Massachu- 
setts; "List of Permits Issued to Applicants for Admission to Hospital^' Records 
of Entrances, Hospital Dues and Clearances, Essex Institute; and Robert Straus, 
Medical Care for Seamen: The Origin of Public Health Services in the United 
States (New Haven, Conn.: 1950), pp. 11-12 and passim. 


Corruption and Reform 

York City customhouse was at once the most dramatically flawed 
agency in government and the focal point of the earliest signif- 
icant efforts to achieve a lasting reform of the system. Within 
weeks of succeeding Grant in 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes wrote 
in his diary, "Now for civil service reform." The government 
"must limit and narrow the area of patronage," he told himself. 
"We must diminish the evils of office-seeking." On April 23, 
1877, he ordered Treasury Secretary John Sherman to appoint a 
commission to investigate the New York customhouse. John Jay, 
scion of a wealthy old New York family and a reformer in his 
own right, headed the commission. Although it would be some 
years before real reform would come to pass, the creation of the 
Jay Commission must stand as the point at which the journey 
toward serious civil service reform of the New York port began. 4 
The commission acted expeditiously and, by autumn 1877, 
had reported to Sherman, who in turn went to the President. In 
its thorough and devastating report, the Jay Commission called 
for "the emancipation of the customhouse from partisan 
control." 5 Hayes immediately pressed reform. "It is my wish," 
he wrote Sherman, "that the collection of the revenues should be 
free from partisan control, and organized on a strictly business 
basis. . . . No assessment for political purposes . . . should 
be allowed." 6 Why start with the New York customhouse? 
Simply put, it was, in terms of significance to the revenue of the 
United States, the obvious place to begin. The Port of New York 

4 Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, Charles R. Williams, 
ed., 6 vols. (Columbus, Ohio: 1924), vol. Ill, p. 430. Ironically Sherman 
himself characterized in his person the need for generalized reform. Weeks 
before Hayes's instruction to initiate reform, he had importuned the customs 
collector at New York, in time-honored fashion, to appoint a friend to a 
sinecure in the customhouse. For a good study of the reform movement, see 
Ari Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils: A History of the Civil Service 
Reform Movement 1865-1883 (Urbana, 111: 1961), p. 152n. and passim. 

5 House Executive Documents, House of Representatives, "Commissions 
to Examine Certain Custom Houses in the United States^' 45th Cong., 1st 
Sess., Executive Document no. 8, October 19, 1877, pp. 14-15. 

6 Rutherford B. Hayes to John Sherman, May 26, 1877, Diary and Letters 
of Rutherford B. Hayes, Williams, ed., vol. II, p. 77. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

collected 75 percent of the customs revenue turned in to the 
Treasury annually. The Customs Service, in turn, was by far the 
largest contributor to the nation's coffers, so the New York 
customhouse, which had receipts of $108 million in 1877, was by 
far the largest single source of revenue for the United States in a 
given year. 7 

Reform, the Jay Commission concluded, must begin in New 
York. "The fidelity of [customhouse] management concerns at 
once our foreign commerce, our domestic manufactures, the 
general prosperity of our people, and the respect and confidence 
of the world." Jay summarized the cause of a problem that 
dated back to a generation before: "The question of political 
appointments'' he wrote, "the recognition of a partisan power 
outside of the Government, divided among irresponsible leaders 
claiming the right to dispose of the offices of the customs as the 
spoils of party, assumes a national magnitude and importance." 
Corruption flowed from partisan evils. In New York, as in most 
customhouses, "officers are appointed through political influ- 
ence, and are expected to make their offices contribute in turn to 
the support of the party." If the party in power itself was on the 
take, morale and the will to resist corruption in the ranks must 
have been severely impaired. 8 

The problems in New York were long-standing, and they had 
long been visible to the public at large. E. L. Godkin's reform- 
minded weekly The Nation made the customhouse a focal point 
for demonstrating the need for change. It began running articles 
endorsing reform as early as 1866, and it did not stop until the 
Pendleton Act was passed in 1883. By studying ongoing investi- 
gations by committees and agencies of Congress over the years, 
The Nation was able to deluge its influential readership with 
data. "The loss sustained through the frauds and waste and 
incompetency of the employees at the New York Custom House," 

1 House Executive Documents, House of Representatives, "Commissions 
to Examine Certain Customs Houses . . . ," 45th Cong., 1st Sess., Executive 
Documents no. 8, October 19, 1877, p. 16. 

8 Ibid. 


Corruption and Reform 

it disclosed in 1866, "was estimated at ranging from $12,000,000 
to 25,000,000 annually." The rank-and-file employees, generally 
willing and able workers, nevertheless "hold their places at will, 
are poorly paid, and have to submit ... to their poor pittance 
docked nearly every year to assist in the payment of the 
electioneering expenses of their party." 9 By 1867, the magazine 
charged, the customhouse had become "a plum of corruption," 
with its business "farmed out to knaves, who were to pay 
$40,000 of $50,000 a year for it." (As we have seen, Collector 
Hiram Barney paid the Treasury Secretary that much for the post 
as early as 1861 .) The Nation rarely let a week pass without some 
comment in its crusade for change. "Until the public service 
becomes a career to which men devote their lives, the temptation 
to grab off all one can during short terms of office will be so 
strong that the purest of men will fall victim to it." Reflecting on 
the impact of the system on the honest employees, it added: "A 
man who won't rob, now naturally finds his position 
untenable." 10 

One such honest person was Collector Moses H. Grinnell, a 
former New York City Congressman, a founder of the Republican 
party locally, the president of a bank, and a past president of the 
city's Chamber of Commerce. 11 Grinnell was already past age 65 
when he received his appointment in 1870, in the wake of yet 
another public storm of indignation over blatant bribery at the 
port. He was chosen because of his impeccable credentials. His 
appointment was intended to provide a cosmetic overlay of honesty 
to mask ongoing problems and appease an aroused public. 

Even though he understood from the beginning that he had 
been called in to save the game, Grinnell's resistance to his 

The Nation, vol. II, no. 33, February 15, 1866. Other papers and 
journals were quick to pick up on these colorful stories. See, for example, 
Harper's Weekly, vol. X, no. 479, March 3, 1866; New York Times, February 
4, 1866; and New York Tribune, January 30, 1866. 

10 The Nation, vol. IV, no. 88, March 7, 1867. See chapter five for the 
details on the reference to Barney and Chase. 

11 Michael N. Ingrisano, Jr., A Biographical Directory of the U.S. 
Customs Service, 1771-1989 (Washington, D.C.: 1985). 


The U.S. Customs Service 

coaches in both the corrupt Grant administration and the local 
customhouse soon sent him back to the bench. His experience is 
a commentary both on the viciousness of the system — imposed 
on Customs by outside political forces — and on the inability of 
single honest persons to change that system. 

Only months after Grinnell took office, The Nation com- 
mented, "We believe it is generally acknowledged that he put as 
few rascals in office as was, under the present system, possible, 
and, in employing helpless and incompetent persons, employed 
the least helpless and incompetent." The result, according to 
Godkin's reform journal, was that he failed "in his duty to the 
party"; moreover, he "failed in his duty to the party almost in 
the direct ratio of his fidelity to the Government; for his duty to 
the Government required him to be particular about the fitness 
of his appointees, while his duty to the party required him to 
disregard fitness to the utmost possible extent." 12 When it 
became clear in Washington that Grinnell was not malleable, he 
was first demoted from collector to naval officer and then, less 
than two years after taking office, fired, along with George W. 
Palmer, a "competent and honest" appraiser of merchandise at 
the port. 

Corruption at the Port of New York took several forms, some 
deriving from purely local situations, some resulting from 
dipping into the public till from Washington, D.C. It was widely 
acknowledged that senior customs officers, including appraisers 
of merchandise, regularly undervalued incoming cargoes to the 
benefit of merchants who paid bribes. It happened in the 
countinghouse, where superior officers reigned, probably more 
so than on the docks, where only relatively small-scale graft 
occurred. 13 

The exploitation of the system from the nation's capital was 
more subtle but no less pervasive. The career of Colonel George 

12 The Nation, vol. XI, no. 262, July 7, 1870. 

13 For a complete account of corrupt practices in the New York custom- 
house in the Gilded Age, see Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, particu- 
larly chapters one, three and nine. 


Corruption and Reform 

Leet is a case in point. While Leet was still on assignment to the 
War Department in Washington and collecting the pay of his 
rank, President Grant named him to manage the "general-order 
warehousing system," operating out of the customhouse. The 
way it worked was this: After merchants paid their duties, they 
were required to take possession of their goods within two days 
of the ship's docking. In practice, as the merchants well under- 
stood, this was not nearly enough time, given the lackadaisical 
work habits of the underpaid dock's longshoremen, who were 
themselves often encouraged by Customs to slow things down. 
So the goods would be turned over to a warehouse designated by 
the customs collector. The merchant was routinely charged both 
cartage fees and a month's warehousing and storage charge 
(usually for only a few days lay-up) in order to get his goods out 
of bond. 

Leet made $10,000 or more the first year (1870) and at least 
double that amount in each succeeding year, managing the whole 
operation from a distance through his own New York agent while 
he was on active duty at the War Department. It was Grinnell's 
uneasiness with this nationally oriented corruption over which 
he had no control that in part led to his quick dismissal. 14 

Meanwhile, it was different, but not better, on the docks. 
What was life like for a junior officer of customs at the Port of 
New York? Here is how one supporter of Inspector Herman 
Melville saw it, as he tried to save Melville's job. The famed 
writer, desperately in need of the income his customs post 
provided during his almost 20-year tenure in Customs, was 
habitually threatened with the loss of it because of his honesty, 
or so his friends claimed. J.C. Woodbury of Massachusetts was 
one of those friends who wrote Treasury Secretary George S. 
Boutwell in 1873 "to ask you, if you can, to do or say anything 
in this . . . quarter" on Melville's behalf, so that the writer 
could continue "the uninhibited enjoyment of his modest hard- 

14 The Nation, vol. XIV, no. 341, January 11, 1872; and Hoogenboom, 
Outlawing the Spoils, pp. 102-03. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

earned salary, as deputy-inspector of the Customs in the City of 
New York." Herman Melville was "Proud, Shy ... he strives 
earnestly to perform his duties as to make the slight- 
est .. . reprimand impossible from any superior. He quietly 
declines offers of money for special services, quietly returning 
money which has been thrust into his pockets . . . steadfastly 
doing his duty" in the face of temptation by "corrupting 
merchants and their clerks and runners, who think that all men 
can be bought." Melville, for his part, Woobury claimed, was 
"happy in retaining his own self-respect." 15 

Despite a decade of railing against the system, things in 
1876 — just before the Jay Commission investigation — were as 
bad as they had been in 1866. The Customs Service of itself tried 
repeatedly, according to the New York Herald, to maintain its 
professionalism, but that was impossible in the environment in 
which the New York customhouse operated. "Efficient and 
competent clerks, examiners, experts and other officials'' ac- 
cording to the Herald, were "kicked out of office on trumped-up 
charges to make room for relatives and favorites who knew 
nothing of the needs or workings of the service." 16 

The appraisers by this time were doing as well as the 
collectors. "It is a fact more or less notorious among merchants," 
the paper reported, that the appraiser's office of the custom- 
house "is rotten throughout. . . . The place has become a 
disgrace even to the present administration." Customs Appraiser 
William A. Darling was forced to resign in 1876, precipitating 
the story. Darling was also secretary of the Third Avenue Savings 
Bank, where he spent most of his time. Treasury agents from 
Washington found widespread evidence of fraud and neglect. 
Tea, gloves, hams, silks — everything imaginable — were siphoned 
off for private sale or grossly undervalued after merchants had 
paid off the appraiser's agents. Larry Harney was Darling's 

15 J.C. Woodbury to George S. Boutwell, January 9, 1873, Personnel File 
of Herman Melville, Notable Persons File, U.S. Treasury Department 
Records, RG 56, National Archives. 

16 New York Herald, March 22, 1876. 


Corruption and Reform 

deputy as well as his political trouble-shooter on the spot at the 
docks. Whenever "subordinates are to be assessed for election- 
eering or other purposes, Harney calls them together . . . and 
announces the amount of the tax. Forthwith the money is 
produced and handed over to Harney, who hands it over to 

Examiners in the appraiser's office were also in on the scheme. 
They "borrowed" money from brokers, anywhere from $50 to 
$500, to get shipments underappraised and cleared quickly. "It is 
not claimed that all the examiners in the Appraisers' Department 
indulge in this business " the Herald concluded, "but that several of 
them have done it and still do it is susceptible of proof at any time." 
Darling was ultimately tried and convicted, not of corruption in the 
customhouse, but of defrauding his bank — a charge that had its 
origins in the investigation of the customhouse. He was but one 
minor public official convicted in the wholesale exposure of 
corruption in the Grant administration. 17 

The Last Hurrah: The Nation at Large 

The problem of corruption was not limited to the Customs 
Service; it plagued every branch of the federal government. Nor 
was it limited to New York City. Philadelphia also suffered from 
the corruption that was built into the system in the Gilded Age, 
and good men operating without good laws could not stop it. 
The case of Henry Dunning Moore, collector at Philadelphia 
from 1869 to 1871, is proof of that. His tenure and removal 
paralleled those of Moses Grinnell in New York. During his brief 
leadership the Philadelphia customhouse was held up as the 
model of probity. Even his political enemies agreed that Moore 
"attends to his duty and transacts public business honestly." 
But, a Republican newspaper asserted, "What is the use of 
appointing Republican officials if they do not help Republican 



The U.S. Customs Service 

principles?" His "honest and faithful collection of the public 
revenue" did not save his job. His enemies in the party asked, 
what have "respectability and honesty to do with the adminis- 
tration of the Custom-house, or his services to the party? Our 
charge is that the Custom-house was a spiked Republican gun in 
the late canvass." Moore's sin was that he did not permit 
customs personnel to pay part of their emoluments into party 
coffers, nor did he force them to serve as party workers at the 
election. He, like Grinnell, was removed and replaced with a 
more politically malleable collector. 18 

What followed was an echo of the New York situation, on a 
smaller scale, according to the Jay Commission. By 1876, New 
York practices had taken hold in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia 
Centennial Exposition of that year, which dramatically increased 
the import volume of the port and created difficulties involving 
special handling of valuable incoming exhibits from abroad, 
exacerbated the problem. Despite these pressures, the naval 
office remained a sinecure, symbolizing the attitude that 
spawned low morale and finally bribery. "We consider the naval 
officer deficient in proper attention to business," the Jay Com- 
mission reported to Congress. "Nine-tenths of his work is done 
by the deputy." Naval Officer John A. Heistand was very frank 
with the commission: "He considered his presence and position 
superfluous, but thought, in as much as the place and salary 
were provided for by law, he might as well have the benefit 
thereof as any one else." 

Well he might think that. Heistand was the publisher of an 
influential Philadelphia Republican newspaper, as was E. B. 
Moore, the appraiser of merchandise in Philadelphia. The Jay 
Commission found that Appraiser Moore was not often around the 
customhouse either. The commission noted a "general negligence 
and incapacity in making the appraisements and returns; of failure 
to personally supervise this and other work; and of loss of duties 
through incapacity or neglect, in failing to detect and report 

l8 The Nation, vol. IX, no. 231, December 2, 1869. 


Corruption and Reform 

. . . alleged underevaluations in certain cases which had been 
called to his attention." Perhaps nothing more could be expected 
from party hacks in high and lucrative office, but the impact on 
integrity and morale in the ranks was disastrous. 19 

Cogent evidence of this was available in the surveyor's office, 
the post responsible for the operation of the "sampling room," 
where samples of imported alcoholic beverages were tested and 
assessed. In practice, however, "The sample-room was, more or 
less, a place of resort for refreshment'' the Jay Commission 
charged, "by officials and their friends, including, as is said, 
special agents and others from Washington." 20 

Other more or less "normal" abuses prevailed, too, as might be 
expected when two of the chief officers of the port were absentee, 
politically connected newspaper publishers. Assessment for "po- 
litical purposes" was rampant in the port within five years of 
Moore's departure. The political assessor, or "tax gatherer 5 ,' as he 
was colloquially called, sat "at the entrance of the cashier's 
department on pay-day, and intercepted each employee as he was 
paid off." The object was to "mulct him in two per cent of his 
salary." An additional two percent was expected as a "voluntary" 
contribution. All employees were described by the collector as 
"cheerful givers!" The system was a generation old when the Jay 
Commission addressed itself to this political institution. 21 

Things were not much better in other parts of the nation. 
Although the Jay Commission gave San Francisco a clean bill of 
health, special agents operating out of the Treasury Department in 
1876 found a different story. In far too many instances, the agents 
found, "the luggage of passengers arriving from foreign ports was 
delivered to the owners without any examination, and that this was 
done by special order from the collector." By this means, according 
to the report, "hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of mer- 

19 House Executive Documents, House of Representatives, "Commis- 
sions to Examine Certain Customs Houses . . . " 45th Cong., 1st Sess., 

Executive Document no. 8, October 19, 1877, pp. 75, 82, 84. 
20 Ibid., p. 89. 
21 Ibid., p. 99. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

chandise is brought into San Francisco and passed without pay- 
ment of duty"; the goods included whiskey, cigars, and works of 
art. Favoritism shown to locals, rather than systematized corrup- 
tion, seemed to be the root of the problem, the agents concluded. 
"The whole business of commerce seems to be conducted in the 
interests of Californians, and the interests of the Government are 
totally ignored." 22 Even the Jay Commission noticed a similar 
favoritism spilling over into the appraisal of merchandise. Apprais- 
ers "had been guilty of gross carelessness, if nothing worse'' 
according to the 1877 report to Congress. 23 

Local officers blamed politics for staff failings. The port 
collector himself freely acknowledged "that appointments had, 
as a rule, been dictated by political influence." That was the 
universal state of things in the 1870's and 1880's, as it had been 
for years. 24 Party affiliation and involvement counted for every- 
thing. At Oakland, under the jurisdiction of the collector of 
customs at San Francisco, "the taint of political motives" was 
evident in the punishment of transgressions by inferior customs 
officers. "Offenses which were condoned in men of one political 
faith were punished with the dismissal of men of the opposite 
political faith." For the same offense, a Democrat was removed 
from his job, while a Republican "was actually retained in the 
service without the loss of a day's pay." The collector, when 
confronted with this charge, responded "that the removals 
follow very generally the recommendations of the Treasury 
officials, which . . . are shown to have been closely along 
political lines, the removals having been almost wholly of 
employees of one political party." 25 

22 New York Tribune, April 18, 1876. 

23 House Executive Documents, House of Representatives, "Commis- 
sions to Examine Certain Customs Houses . . . " 45th Cong., 1st Sess., 
Executive Document no. 8, October 19, 1877, p. 132. 

24 Ibid., p. 133. 

25 John R. Proctor to John Wise, June 13, 1895, "Letters to the Collector 
From the Secretary of the Treasury Re: Personnel," Box 1, Series 13, RG 36, 
U.S. Bureau of Customs, Port of San Francisco, Administrative Records 
1857-1947, Federal Records Center, San Bruno, California. 


Corruption and Reform 

The New Orleans customhouse also fell into the trap of 
mismanagement along a broad front of responsibilities. The 
collector, accused of absenteeism, refused to give the Jay Com- 
mission any information on his attendance to business in 1877; 
the commission had no subpoena powers and could do nothing 
but report to the President the collector's refusal. A favored 
warehouse was used for storage of cleared goods awaiting pickup 
by merchants, and the cost of drayage to that warehouse was 
higher than anywhere else in the nation. In the appraiser's office, 
examined packages were routinely left open and samples taken 
by the staff. The appraiser or his aides rarely questioned the 
merchant's appraisal of the goods' value, suggesting "great 
elasticity of conscience" in that office, according to the commis- 
sion. Inspectors commonly boarded incoming ships and took 
their meals there before proceeding to the business of inspecting 
the cargo. The collector considered himself under the protection 
of Treasury Secretary John Sherman. A political ally of Sher- 
man's, he seemed not to fear the result of the Jay inquiry, and 
with good reason, for only minor reforms occurred in that 
southern port as a result of the investigation. 26 In the meantime, 
however, on a much larger stage, the seeds of civil service reform 
were taking root. 

Reform: Grant, Hayes and Customs Collector 
Chester A. Arthur 

Facing serious and increasingly public allegations of corrup- 
tion from the "Mugwumps" (the reform element of the Repub- 
lican party) and progressive journals like The Nation and 
Harper's Weekly, the Grant administration in 1871 proposed 
some cosmetic changes in the operation of the U.S. civil service 

26 House Executive Documents, House of Representatives, "Commis- 
sions to Examine Certain Customs Houses . . . " 45th Cong., 1st Sess., 
Executive Document no. 8, October 19, 1877, pp. 108, 110-11, 114; Hoogen- 
boom, Outlawing the Spoils, pp. 180-81. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

in general and the Customs Service in particular. The changes 
sounded good, but the immediate impact was small. Still, the 
scent of reform hung in the air during the 1870's. Political 
influence in appointments and removals was denounced, for the 
time being with no visible effect. The same applied to removal 
from office of one's party enemies. Competitive examination for 
all appointees was suggested but not implemented. A virtually 
powerless Civil Service Commission was established. The only 
reform to take effect before the Hayes presidency was the 
abolition of the moiety system. 

The immediate history of this system dated back to the Age 
of Jackson but, in fact, moiety was a modification of a 
long-established British customs device evident, for example, in 
the American colonies before the Revolution. The system en- 
couraged customs employees to detect fraud by allocating one- 
third of the proceeds of the sale of confiscated goods to the 
government, one-third to the informer, and one-third to the 
collector and other port officers. Income from moieties 
"amounted to much more than the salaries of customs officials 
in larger ports" in the Gilded Age; it also led to uneven customs 
enforcement. Selective payoffs, for example, were encouraged by 
merchants who did not want close inspection of their imports 
(even as others were "discovered" in the act of fraud); it also set 
the scene for wholesale invasions of privacy. 27 

The chief sacrificial lamb offered up in the termination of 
moieties was New York City Customs Collector Chester Alan 
Arthur, a political lieutenant in the New York Republican 
machine headed by Senator Roscoe Conkling. The latter was the 
most notorious of the "spoilsmen" in the Gilded Age, an epithet 
invented by the Mugwump reformers of the era. Arthur, a New 
York City lawyer, was tarred with the same brush when he 
accepted the lucrative customs post under the sponsorship of the 
Conkling wing of the Republican party in 1871. The new 
collector netted more than $50,000 per year at that post for the 

27 Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, p. 104. 


Seals of the Treasury Department, 1820-date. 

Treasury Department seal used on 
Customs Regulations, 1874-1900. 

First seal known to use the name, 
U.S. Customs Service, 1880's and 1890's. 

Collector seal. 1890' s- 1911. 


Customs Agency Service seal, 1930- 

Customs seal until 1966. 

Customs seal, I960' 

Customs seal, 1960's. 

Customs seal, 1973-present. 

Customs logo appearing on shoulder 
patches of uniformed employees. 

lis cursed Qqnib^ 

■ A 
>" r 





Defying the embargo, 1807-09. 



Document of registration for the 
SS SAVANNAH, issued August 25, 
1820. The SAVANNAH was the 
first American steam-powered 
vessel to cross the Atlantic. 

3^11 pursuance of an Atftf ofJ^OJ )UMlt5£>* » 
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Vessel registration, 1820. 

Andrew Jackson, President, 
1829-37. The National Portrait 
Gallery, Smithsonian Museum. 

New York City Democrats 
following Van Buren's election, 
1837. Library of Congress. 

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Fi' -t appearance 


Caricature following New York customhouse scandals, 1838. Library of Congress. 

Customhouse, New York City, 1842-63; now designated Federal Hall National Memorial. 

Office seekers importune President Martin Van Buren, 1837. Library of Congress. 


Customs heads roll with the changing of the guard, 1848-49. Library of Congress. 

trff I 1 /it^m Mem nt-fa**, 


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Nathaniel Hawthorne, Surveyor, 
Salem, 1846-49. 

Customhouse, Salem, Massachusetts, 

Thomas Nast caricatures hostility to Chinese immigrants, 1872. 



^nj|liJ' 1 ji 

w JPfffHtl 



Chester A. Arthur, President, 1881-85. 
^ Prohibition cartoon by Thomas Nast, 1874. 

Customhouse, Galveston, Texas, 1861. 

Theodore Roosevelt, 

U.S. Civil Service 

Commission, 1889-95. 

Wj/MSo/i fe^y 


NEW YORK. MAY 4. 1 S99. 

NUMBER 858. 


Popular perception of Customs' search procedure, 1899. 

Corruption and Reform 

next three years. In 1874, however, under intense pressure from 
the mounting exposure of corruption in high places, the Grant 
administration, among its token concessions to reform, abol- 
ished moieties; as a result, Arthur's income dropped to only his 
$12,000 salary. 28 

The public view of Arthur as the last of the corrupt, old-line 
machine spoilsmen to occupy the top spot in the port was rein- 
forced by the attention he received in the reform press simply by 
being collector during the Jay Commission investigation. Horace 
Greeley's New York Tribune in April 1877 concluded that the New 
York customhouse, more than any other government operation in 
the nation, needed reform. It described Arthur as "able to do little 
more than sign a few papers which are presented to him in routine, 
and to give instructions to politicians." It also alleged that Arthur 
took no action when he received a list of names of customs 
subordinates who took money from importers "for what are called 
extra services but which payments in point of fact are little better 
than bribes." The Tribune was forced to acknowledge that "there 
are no accusations against Collector Arthur's personal integrity," 
but the implications of his laxity and complicity were clear: It was 
in the public interest that there be "a thorough reorganization of the 
[customs] service" in the port. 29 

Arthur personally was accused of spending only a few hours 
a day at the port. Arthur (who was quoted only as an "official" 
of the Customs Service and not by name) responded angrily that 
he spent at least seven hours a day at his job, but much of that 
time he was perhaps not at the port because he had public 
business elsewhere. He also needed to work on public business, 
he said, in his own law offices in order to escape office seekers. 30 

Public identification of Arthur as a spoilsman was inevitably 
reinforced by stories like this in Harper's, The Nation, and 
elsewhere and by Arthur's removal from the collector's office by 

28 See Leonard D. White, The Republican Era (New York, 1958), pp. 

29 The New York Tribune, April 9, 10, 12, and 13, 1877. 




The U.S. Customs Service 

Hayes not many months after the publication of the Jay 
Commission report. No wonder a disgusted U.S. Attorney 
General, Wayne MacVeagh, resigned immediately when Arthur 
became President. He, like Henry Adams, believed that another 
spoilsman had reached the White House, and that another round 
of corruption, reminiscent of the Grant regime, was just around 
the corner. 

In 1877 President-elect Hayes decided to use the Jay Commis- 
sion findings on the New York customhouse to undermine the 
Conkling machine in the city and state, a machine that had failed 
Hayes in the election of 1876. Revenge, then, as well as deep 
commitment to civil service reform, formed the basis for the 
changes Hayes imposed on this and all large ports in the early years 
of his administration. Grant administration rules, Hayes vowed, 
would be implemented. The New York customhouse would become 
"a showcase for reform," and in that spirit, he removed Arthur in 
1878. 31 Edwin A. Merritt was named in his stead, and career civil 
servant Silas W Burt became the naval officer. 

It took months for both appointments to be confirmed, but the 
Conkling forces in the Senate were finally vanquished early in 1879. 
In the debate, Conkling scored heavily by demonstrating that, even 
as he mouthed civil service reform, President Hayes had forced 
Arthur to make two political appointments by his direct interven- 
tion. One was the son of the U.S. Supreme Court Justice who had 
cast the deciding vote for Hayes in the disputed election of 1876, 
and the other was the President's campaign biographer! E. L. 
Godkin, writing in The Nation, acknowledged "genuine pain" over 
these revelations, but added that Conkling's failure was a "great 
gain" for the reform movement. 32 

President Hayes deliberately chose the New York custom- 
house as his battleground for civil service reform for both 
partisan and high-minded reasons, but he was correct in getting 

31 Ari Hoogenboom, "Civil Service Reform and Public Morality^ in H. 
Wayne Morgan, ed., The Gilded Age (Syracuse, N.Y.: 1970), pp. 92-93. 

32 The Nation, vol. XXVIII, no. 710, February 6, 1879; and New York 
Times, February 4, 1879. 


Corruption and Reform 

at the core of the problem: The facility was, he said, "a center of 
partisan political management," while it "should be conducted 
on business principles." Hayes wrote Edwin Merritt that he 
expected the new collector to implement the Grant rules "in 
making appointments and removals of subordinates." Remain 
independent of "mere influence," the President admonished. 
"Neither my recommendation, nor Secretary Sherman's, nor 
that of any member of Congress, or other influential persons 
should be specially regarded." These are interesting words 
coming from an executive who had blatantly foisted two political 
appointees on New York customs in the recent past. "Let no man 
be put out merely because he is Mr. Arthur's friend, and no man 
put in merely because he is our friend." 33 

Some of Hayes's actions gained significance over time. For 
example, his Executive Order of June 22, 1877 forbidding office 
holders to take part in political activities and disallowing polit- 
ical contributions by federal officers meant little in immediate 
terms. 34 It would be a long time before either was observed. Yet 
he also insisted on implementing the Grant rule on competitive 
examinations; the New York customhouse was made the guinea 
pig in 1879 when the rule was first enforced. Appointments from 
that date could be made only after a competitive examination 
was taken, with the three candidates who did best as the only 
ones eligible for the post in question. "Well-known citizens" 
were prominent on the board of examiners, ensuring the integrity 
of the system. 35 That success, and the overall sense that at last 
the deep and nagging problems of political morality were being 

33 Rutherford B. Hayes to Edwin A. Merritt, February 4, 1879, Diary and 
Letters of Rutherford B. Hayes, Williams, ed., vol. Ill, pp. 520-21; Hayes to 
the U.S. Senate, January 31, 1879, in A Compilation of the Messages and 
Papers of the President, James D. Richardson, ed., 11 vols. (Washington, 
D.C. 1897-1909), vol. VII, pp. 511-12. 

34 Rutherford Hayes's Executive Order no. 626, June 22 (actually promul- 
gated June 28), 1877, in Messages and Papers of the President, Richardson, 
ed., vol. VII, pp. 450-51. 

i5 The Nation, vol. XXVIII, nos. 712 and 715, February 20 and March 
13, 1879, respectively. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

addressed, caused a favorable public response in Gotham, and 
probably the nation at large. 

Naval Officer Silas Burt's dynamic honesty and leadership 
clearly enhanced the public's perception that a thorough house- 
cleaning was under way. Burt implemented the rule requiring 
competitive exams for appointment by calling on prominent New 
York residents to administer the exams, astutely asking reform- 
minded journalists to take part. These editors, Burt later noted, 
"were specially interested and their impressions, always favor- 
able, were reflected in their papers." The New York Times, for 
example, described Burt's efforts as "enlightened" and "an 
agreeable disappointment to the doubters." Never before, a 
contemporary Mugwump noted of the customhouse, "had so 
much time been given to proper work and so little to partisan 
politics." Politics was not eliminated by any means, in any of its 
forms, but it was curbed in this most symbolically important of 
Government agencies. 36 

Reform: President Arthur 

Arthur's nomination as Republican Vice-Presidential candi- 
date owed much to a series of improbable circumstances, 
including the fame he had achieved as a party regular victimized 
by the wave of reform. More immediately, his nomination was a 
sop to the Conkling machine in New York, which had opposed 
James A. Garfield's candidacy in 1880; Arthur's place on the 
ticket was a successful attempt to salvage the electoral votes of 
New York for the Republicans. He was elevated to the Presidency 
when James A. Garfield died in September 1881, the victim of 
assassination by Charles Guiteau. 

The facts of Guiteau's purpose are somewhat cloudy, but the 
immediate and enduring public perception was very clear. Gui- 
teau was a deranged office seeker who wanted Arthur to be 

i6 New York Times, July 9, 1879; and Hoogenboom, Outlawing the 
Spoils, pp. 172-73. 


Corruption and Reform 

President in order to restore the spoils system and avert civil 
service reform. To outraged people in general then, and to 
reformers in particular, the spoils system itself was the motivat- 
ing force in the assassination, and the languishing cause of civil 
service reform was jolted into a new momentum that would carry 
it through to the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883. 
Involved in all this was the perception held by Guiteau, and 
seemingly shared by the reformers, that Arthur was an old-line 
spoils politician who could be counted on to restore the old 
order. Those who so reckoned did so without taking into account 
the impact the office would have on the man. 

This public perception of Arthur was well founded. It is ironic 
that his candidacy for Vice President was indirectly the result of his 
two well-publicized failures: the cut in his collector's salary in 1874 
and his removal from the New York customs post three years later. 
The strong sense of his past limitations lingered on in 1881 and 
beyond. Henry Adams, that astute commentator on the politics of 
the Gilded Age, noted acidly, "Luckily, it will be hard for Arthur to 
begin worse than Garfield did, although he can but try." 37 

The new President's critics were in for a surprise. A "new" 
Arthur emerged in the White House, an Arthur radically 
different from the one in the customhouse. In his first State of 
the Union message to Congress at the end of 1881, after three 
months in office, Arthur pledged himself to civil service reform. 
He committed himself to the principle of fitness for office, an 
end to wholesale removals, and above all a permanent revival of 
the Civil Service Commission. He had some qualms about 
competitive exams for office, lest college students dominate the 
civil lists, but he said he would even support a bill that contained 
an examination provision. 38 Exactly a year later, by the time he 

37 Henry Adams to Henry Cabot Lodge, October 29 and November 15, 
21, \8$\, Letters of Henry Adams, Worthington C. Ford, ed., 2 vols. (Boston: 
1930), vol. I, pp. 330-32. 

* 8 Chester Alan Arthur's State of the Union Message to Congress, 
December 6, 1881 , in Messages and Papers of the President, Richardson, ed., 
vol. VIII, pp. 60-63. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

delivered his second annual message, Arthur had come all the 
way round. In his December 1882 address he called for enact- 
ment of the Pendleton Civil Service Act, endorsed competitive 
examinations without qualification, and supported a ban on 
political assessments of government employees. 39 Chet Arthur, 
as one historian has observed, "had traveled a long way" from 
the New York Customhouse. 40 

Arthur delivered on his commitments. He signed the Pend- 
leton Act and it became law in 1883. That he meant business in 
implementing it was indicated by his appointment of Dorman B. 
Eaton, secretary of the National Civil Service Reform League 
and the person who drafted the bill, as the commission's first 
chairman. In his remaining time in office, President Arthur 
heard many complaints about his "indifference" to Republican 
party machines around the nation, but he pledged "to give the 
reform system fair play." The new Civil Service Commission, at 
the time Arthur was leaving office, warmly toasted him for his 
"constant, firm, and friendly support" of its efforts. 41 Initially, 
and probably inevitably, more was expected from the commis- 
sion than it could at first deliver; but by the 1890's its efforts had 
begun to pay off in a more professional civil service in general, 
and a revamped and increasingly professional Customs Service 
in particular. 

Reform: Customs After the Pendleton Act 

For the two decades following its passage, the Pendleton Act 
offered up a classic case of legislation, akin to the "polka 
double-time:" two steps forward and one step backward. Defi- 
ance of the rule of law on the part of government officials and 

39 Ibid., vol. VIII, pp. 145-47. 

"^Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils, p. 238. 

41 Justus D. Doenecke, The Presidencies of James A. Garfield and 

Chester A. Arthur (Lawrence, Kans.: 1981), pp. 102-03. 


Corruption and Reform 

political parties alike remained commonplace during the Gilded 
Age as far as customs was concerned, but at least victims now 
had somewhere to turn, and that somewhere was the Civil 
Service Commission. A key figure in promoting the transition 
from the weak, easily bypassed agency it was in the 1880's, to the 
increasingly effective watchdog it became after 1900, was The- 
odore Roosevelt, who began a six-year term on the commission 
in 1889. He brought the same legendary vigor to that position 
that he brought to everything else. 

The Pendleton Act of 1883 strengthened the commission's 
oversight role. It also mandated the gradual classification of civil 
service positions so that vacancies would be filled by examina- 
tions. This meant that the number of jobs overseen by the 
commission would increase as incumbents vacated them. In 
theory, political involvement by civil servants was banned, and 
the practice of forcing political assessments on government 
employees rendered illegal. It would be many years before those 
provisions became the norm, however. Removals for political 
reasons were also prohibited, but again there was a gap between 
what the law said and the reality imposed by party politics. 

Nonetheless, the law caused a dramatic and extensive turn- 
around in the linchpin of the Customs Service, the New York 
City customhouse. Problems in New York were not solved 
overnight, but the leadership combination of Edwin Merritt and 
Silas Burt after 1877 gave New York a much-needed headstart on 
professionalization and reform that continued after their terms 
and into the 1880's and 1890's. One measure of success was the 
diminution of complaints and criticism in the New York press 
and reform periodicals; another was the relative paucity of cases 
from New York brought before the Civil Service Commission. 
On taking office as a commissioner in 1889, Teddy Roosevelt by 
his own account "did some pretty good work" at the custom- 
house. As if to prove his assertion that "I did not intend to have 
the commission remain a mere board of head clerks" he 
recommended the removal of three subordinates in the examin- 


The U.S. Customs Service 

er's office in New York, charging them with fraud. 42 Examples 
were made of a few of the thousands of employees in New York, 
but the customhouse was on its way to a return to the profes- 
sional reputation it had enjoyed before the Jackson era. 

This is not to say that efforts to exploit the New York 
customhouse for political ends disappeared. What did happen 
was that there was now a place to lodge complaints, with some 
assurance that investigation and exposure, if not removal and 
criminal proceedings, would follow. Only one case surfaced in 
New York during Roosevelt's six- year tenure. Peter Rafferty and 
Thomas McGee "advised" fellow customhouse employees to 
"pay contributions to the Democratic campaign committee 
treasurer" during the 1888 Presidential race. Those who did not 
contribute received a reminder. Both men, according to 
Roosevelt, "were apparently endeavoring to keep just outside the 
pale of the law, but it looks very much as if they had overstepped 
the line." An indictment followed, but no conviction; neverthe- 
less, the example seems to have worked, because this incident 
remained, for New York at least, an isolated one. 43 

The spillover of politics into customs operations at the end of 
the 19th century seemed to be more in evidence outside New 
York. Much of the problem regarding politics and the civil 
service concerned the persistent confusion as to what exactly 
constituted political interference. The process of definition 
continued throughout the 19th century, as Customs struggled to 
achieve independence from political intervention. 

San Francisco was a case in point. In 1889, an examiner in 
the customhouse was removed, he claimed, for political reasons. 
Roosevelt agreed with the complainant but pointed out the 
then-existing limitations imposed on the Civil Service Commis- 

42 Theodore Roosevelt to Anna Roosevelt, June 2, 1889, The Letters of 
Theodore Roosevelt, Elting E. Morison, ed., 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.: 
1951), vol. I, p. 163. 

3 Theodore Roosevelt to William H. Miller, May 6, 1890; Roosevelt to 
Oliver T. Morton, May 5, 1892; and Roosevelt to Lucius B. Swift, May 7, 
1892, ibid., vol. I, pp. 218, 277, 280. 


Corruption and Reform 

sion. "All we can do," Roosevelt wrote in 1889, "is to control 
appointments and see that they are made according to law." He 
could offer no redress. A few years later, Edward Jerome, the 
deputy collector at Oakland (operating under the jurisdiction of 
the San Francisco collection district) complained bitterly to his 
Congressman that his superior at San Francisco had removed 
Jerome's father on the grounds the elder Jerome was too old to 
do the work and that his retention on the payroll really consti- 
tuted nepotism. Jerome the younger, pointing out what a sterling 
employee his father was, charged that the removal "was activated 
by a dislike of me." In 1896, another deputy collector at 
Oakland resigned to run for Congress. When he lost, he tried to 
reclaim his job on the ground that he was protected by civil 
service tenure; the ruling went against him, for in claiming civil 
service protection "he has grossly violated the civil service 
rules." ** 

Fugitive problems occurred elsewhere as well, even as the 
general picture improved for U.S. Customs. In 1896 special 
agents were sent to Key West, Florida, to investigate charges that 
political assessments had been "levied on custom house employ- 
ees" for the previous two years. Political contributions had been 
solicited, the U.S. Attorney General acknowledged, but compli- 
ance was not enforced by threats. The collector was admonished 
and the matter dropped. Similar charges leveled at the New York 
collector were dismissed as unfounded. 45 

More substantial allegations were made against the Baltimore 
collector over a period of years. A sign-up sheet for promising to 

^Theodore Roosevelt to J.G. Underwood, in ibid., vol. I, p. 204; Edward 
B. Jerome to Charles Lyman, December 21, 1892, "Press Copies of Letters 
from Edward B. Jerome, 1881-1897;' U.S. Bureau of Customs Papers, RG 
36, Port of San Francisco General Records, 1869-1931, Federal Records 
Center, San Bruno, California; San Francisco Examiner, November 21, 1896; 
San Francisco Chronicle, November 10, 1896. 

45 Judson Harmon to John G. Carlisle, July 28 and October 22, 1896, 
"Letters Received by the Attorney General, 1831-19101' RG 56, Treasury 
Department Records, Entry 144, Box 1897-1910, National Archives, Wash- 
ington, D.C. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

pay a political assessment "was carried around the custom house 
building in 1891," and "the person carrying it around was in the 
Government service." One customs employee, Sewell Plummer, 
refused to contribute and "warned the person presenting it that 
he was violating the law." The Civil Service Commission, with 
Roosevelt acting as its representative, decided instead to investi- 
gate the Baltimore Post Office, a much greater violator in the 
commission's eyes apparently. It was believed the resulting 
exposure would end the problem in the customs as well. 46 (By the 
1890's, the Post Office seems to have replaced the Customs 
Service as the most politicized government agency.) 

The Philadelphia customhouse became a long-term project 
for Theodore Roosevelt. In 1889, on taking office as a commis- 
sioner, Roosevelt journeyed to Philadelphia to conduct his own 
investigation. John Cadwalader, collector from 1885 to 1889, 
had virtually ignored the new Pendleton legislation. During his 
term, according to Roosevelt, "one hundred and twenty out of 
one hundred and fifty-two persons in the classified service of the 
Philadelphia Custom House were removed or resigned." 
Changes in the classified service (positions presumably protected 
by civil service tenure) "amounted to nearly eighty percent," 
Roosevelt alleged. "This is perilously near the clean sweep, of 
which there is always such danger when considerations of 
partisan politics are allowed to control the appointing officer." 
Roosevelt contrasted this situation with that in the Boston 
customhouse where, under the aegis of Collector Leverett Sal- 
tonstall, "an avowed upholder of the civil service law as well as 
an efficient business administrator of his office, only about a 
fifth of the classified employees were removed during the four 
years" from 1885 to 1889. The new commissioner concluded that 
"on the face of the matter there seems no good reason why in 
another office of the same character it should have been 
necessary to remove or obtain the resignation of four- fifths," and 

46 Theodore Roosevelt to John Forrester Andrew, May 31, 1892, with 
enclosures, Letters of Theodore Roosevelt, Morison, ed., vol. I, pp. 283-85. 


Corruption and Reform 

so he decided to make a cleanup of Philadelphia his pet 
project. 47 

By 1893, Roosevelt had made significant headway at Phila- 
delphia. He reported in a speech at Harrisburg that, in the 
previous four years, removals in the classified jobs of the 
customhouse had dropped to 3.3 percent; in the unclassified 
customs jobs, however, removals remained at 90 percent over a 
four-year period — a level Roosevelt considered unconscionable. 
Removals cost time and dollars, Roosevelt argued, for it took six 
months for the typical clerk to become as proficient as his 
predecessor. "For four months preceding a change in adminis- 
tration," Roosevelt added, the unclassified employee "did barely 
half his ordinary work, because he was nervous about his 
position." Roosevelt called compellingly for rapid classification 
of the lesser customs positions. 48 

In the ensuing years, classification was in fact extended at 
Philadelphia and other ports, yet problems of enforcement 
persisted in Philadelphia, even as conditions improved in Bos- 
ton, New York, and elsewhere. Congressman Marriott Brosius as 
late as 1898 cautioned the Pennsylvania Civil Service Reform 
Association that although "intrigue and corruption" in the 
customhouse had been reduced, "the system" continued. The 
system involved "official favoritism, and political and social 
influence'' persistent impediments to enforcement of the Pend- 
leton Act. 49 

Despite the continued presence of political influence in the 
Customs Service, the 1890's saw rapid professionalization, as 

December 21, 
1889, in ibid., vol. I, p. 206. 

48 Theodore Roosevelt's Speech before the Judiciary-General Committee, 
Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, March 7, 
1893, National Civil Service Reform League Correspondence, 1893 folder, 
Welsh Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. 

49 Congressman Marriott Brosius's Speech, January 11, 1898, Papers of 
the Pennsylvania Civil Service Reform Association, Miscellaneous Box 
1891-1919, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. The association 
was one of several local citizen-oriented watchdog organizations, the existence 
of which was encouraged by the Civil Service Commission. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

classification increased and stronger enforcement took hold. 
Most open corruption seemed to have been rooted out. At least 
by 1893, reports of corruption and political favoritism disap- 
peared from the published Roosevelt papers. The papers reveal, 
however, that difficulties persisted in the Post Office Department 
to which Roosevelt addressed himself. 

When Roosevelt resigned from the commission in 1895 to 
take the position of Police Commissioner of New York City — on 
a career course that would lead to the White House — he believed 
that progress had been made over his six-year tenure. "During 
my term in office," he wrote President Grover Cleveland in his 
letter of resignation, "I have seen the classified service grow to 
more than double the size that it was six years ago. There have 
been haltings and shortcomings, here and there," he added, "but 
as a whole the improvement in the administration of the 
[Pendleton] law has kept pace steadily with the growth of the 
classified service." In a less formal valedictory he noted, "I have 
for six years given all my energy and all my heart to the work." 50 
He and those other early Civil Service commissioners had indeed 
done that, and one result was a more efficient and honest 
Customs Service as it entered the 20th century. 

One important change that the new century would bring — at 
long last — was an end to the Customs responsibility for oversee- 
ing the immigration into the United States. That assignment had 
never been intended for the agency, but Customs had had to cope 
for more than a half-century. Short-handed and underfunded as 
it was, U.S. Customs did the best it could to enforce the poorly 
conceived Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which is discussed in 
the chapter that follows. 

50 Theodore Roosevelt to Grover Cleveland, April 25, 1895, Roosevelt to 
Lucius Burrie Swift, April 27, 1895, Letters of Theodore Roosevelt, Morison, 
ed., vol. I, pp. 443 and 447, respectively. 


Chapter VII 



Most historians examining the activities of the Customs 
Service overlook its responsibility for overseeing immigration 
into the United States in the 19th century. Before there was a 
clearly defined Immigration and Naturalization Service, the 
specialized immigration officers assigned to ports and border 
crossings were either part of the Customs Service or under its 
jurisdiction. In that era of massive arrivals, Customs — as usual 
without even remotely adequate resources — was never more 
challenged than it was in having to enforce the poorly drawn, 
hostile Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and its subsequent 
refining amendments. 

This story can serve as an in-depth example of Customs' 
responsibilities in an age of immigration. Before and after the 
Civil War, Irish and Chinese immigrants were permitted to enter 
the United States in vast numbers to provide the cheap labor 
required to build the transcontinental railroads. The Irish arrived 
through northeastern ports to build westward; the Chinese 
arrived at various points on the West Coast to build eastward. 
With the transcontinentals largely completed by the 1880's, the 
Chinese were no longer wanted. They shared the fate that befell 
all non-Caucasians in 19th-century America, a victimization 


The U.S. Customs Service 

that was perhaps deepened by their double jeopardy as immi- 
grants (also unwanted by many). 

The Customs Service was shoved into the breach to enforce 
the oppressive 1882 law and stop the flow of illegal Chinese 
immigrants, male and female, adults and children, who were 
smuggled through most West Coast ports including San Fran- 
cisco and Seattle, as well as overland from western and eastern 
Canada and across the Mexican border. Given its limited per- 
sonnel and resources and an impossible number of loopholes to 
deal with, Customs nevertheless did a creditable and, on the 
whole, humane job in enforcing a bad law. 

Stemming the "Yellow Tide": The Face of Discrimination 

Perceptions of Chinese immigrants as inferior beings devel- 
oped in California in the 1850's, as they flocked into the Bay area 
around San Francisco in the wake of the gold rush to begin work 
on the railroads. Because the Chinese coolies provided labor, 
little effort was made then to restrict the new arrivals from the 
Orient. Much has been written recently about American atti- 
tudes toward Asians; in general it need only be noted that the 
attitudes that surfaced before the Civil War would prevail well 
into the 20th century. By 1870, Chinese immigrants constituted 
about 10 percent of California's population and a much higher 
proportion of its labor force. Most of the Chinese laborers did 
menial work. The stereotype can be found in the popular 
contemporary poem by Bret Harte called "The Heathen 
Chinee." By the 1870's, "anticoolie clubs" had been established 
all over the Bay area, as political forces in both parties, strongly 
supported by organized labor, moved to restrict Chinese 
immigration. 1 

'For a good description of Chinese-American labor tensions, see Alex- 
ander Saxton, The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese 
Movement in California (Berkeley, Calif.: 1971), especially pp. 4-10, 18-20, 


Enforcing the Chinese Exclusion Act 

San Francisco was the center of Chinese settlement and the 
center of racial prejudice as well by 1870. In that year the city 
passed a "Cubic Air" ordinance barring Chinese from crowding 
into small hovels — the only housing they could afford. In the 
same year the Chinese were prohibited "from using poles to 
carry laundry loads on the sidewalk." The most degrading local 
law was an 1873 statute requiring a Chinese under arrest to cut 
off his queue, a mortal disgrace to the individual. Anti-Chinese 
riots, looting, and even lynching were commonplace by that 
decade. 2 

It was little wonder then, that state and national political 
efforts to restrict Chinese immigration were very much in 
evidence by the 1870's, with western representatives in Congress 
in the vanguard seeking to put together an anti-Chinese bloc 
capable of passing an exclusion law. 3 The effort succeeded in 
1882, with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which 
closed off Chinese immigration and provided that "no State or 
Court of the United States shall admit Chinese to citizenship." 

The act, according to one historian, indicated both the 
fevered hostility Americans felt toward Chinese and the weak- 
ness of China itself as a nation, for the law was intended to be, 
and was insulting. But loopholes crept into the legislation, as 
always happens. 4 The U.S. Customs Service, that repository of 
dirty jobs to be done for the government, was given one of its 
dirtiest when it was asked to coordinate the enforcement of the 
Chinese Exclusion Act. 

Customs slogged on with the principal responsibility for 
coordinating the enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act until 
after the turn of the century, when the new U.S. Public Health 

2 Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung, Island: Poetry and History 
of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940 (San Francisco: 1980), p. 

3 For an example of this effort, see The Nation, February 20, 1879, vol. 
XXVIII, no. 712, and passim. 

4 For an effective summary of anti-Asian attitudes and legislation in this 
era, see Jeff H. Lesser, "Always 'Outsiders': Asians, Naturalization, and the 
Supreme Court;' Amerasia, vol. 12 (1985-1986), pp. 83-100, especially p. 85. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Service and the Bureau of Immigration took over. The former 
came into existence gradually between 1890 and 1910, as a 
variety of operations coalesced. In 1900, for example, a Public 
Health Service Quarantine Station was established on Angel 
Island to work with the Customs Service in screening incoming 
Orientals. 5 

The Bureau of Immigration had been established in 1864, but 
it was assigned only statistical responsibilities at first. Its role 
was strengthened in 1882 when the Chinese Exclusion Act was 
passed, but its operations in the field remained ambiguous; its 
immigration officers worked under the jurisdiction of the Cus- 
toms Service until the 20th century, and Customs retained a 
diminishing role in the processing of immigrants at least until 
1910. Customs remained a part of the process until the virtual 
termination of immigration in 1926. 

Once the transcontinental railroad approached completion in 
1882, Customs' main efforts were directed at curbing the influx 
of Chinese laborers, and this remained a priority goal for the 
next 10 years. No fewer than 30 circulars to personnel issued to 
the Customs Service over the period 1882-1902 dealt with 
Chinese exclusion; 25 of these defined restrictions on potential 
male immigrant laborers. 6 

In 1894, in an effort to pinch off the inflow of Chinese 
laborers, the government prevailed upon a hopelessly weak 
China to agree to a treaty that "absolutely" prohibited the 
migration of Chinese workers to this country for "a period of ten 

5 One of the developing specialties of the new US. Public Health Service 
was field epidemological investigations, at a time when incoming Asians were 
suspected of being carriers of potential epidemic diseases. For this early work, 
and its new role in the immigration process generally, see A.T. Watt to J.J. 
Kinyoun, June 20, 1900, and passim, "Correspondence Received Regarding 
Epidemics and the Prevention of Epidemics, May 14, 1900'' 2 vols., Box 29, 
RG 90, Papers of the Public Health Service Quarantine Station, Angel Island, 
California, San Bruno Federal Records Center, National Archives, San 
Bruno, California. 

6 For the texts of these customs circulars, see the comprehensive file 
available in the U.S. Customs Service Archives, Customs Building, Washing- 
ton, D.C. 


Enforcing the Chinese Exclusion Act 

years." If Chinese workers who were already U.S. residents left 
the United States to visit their homeland, "the right of such a 
laborer to return" required "the deposit by him with the 
Collector of Customs for the district from which he departs a 
written description of his family, property, or debts. The Collec- 
tor is required to furnish him with a certificate of his right to 
return." This was an effort to close one gaping loophole in the 
1882 law, by which immigration smugglers falsely claimed that 
incoming Chinese were, in fact, American citizens returning 
from visits abroad. 7 

Stemming the "Yellow Tide": The West Coast Ports 

By the mid-1890's, as immigration procedures at the ports 
generally tightened, the steamship companies, particularly the 
Pacific Mail Steamship Company, increasingly resorted to claims 
that incoming Chinese were returning from visits home. Many in 
truth could now say that they were native Americans. By 
mid-decade, a "Chinese Bureau" had been established at the 
Port of San Francisco, with the collector of customs at its head. 
"I am in my office dailyT Collector John P. Jackson wrote in 
1898, "except Saturday afternoons, and devote the entire time 
from three until six in hearing and passing upon reports of the 
Chinese Bureau. 8 

Partly because the Bureau was understaffed, its effectiveness 
was limited. Internal dissensions further eroded its operational 

7 Attorney General Judson Harmon to Treasury Secretary John G. 
Carlisle, May 26, 1896, "Letters Received from the Attorney General, 
1831-1910;' Entry 144, Treasury Department Records, RG 56, National 

8 J. Jackson to Treasury Secretary Lyman Gage, August 8, 1898, Item 1, 
"Press Copies of Letters from the Collector to the Secretary of the Treasury, 
1869-1912;' RG 36, General Records of the US. Bureau of Customs, Port of 
San Francisco, 1869-1931, San Bruno Federal Records Center, National 
Archives, San Bruno, California. This facility has a significant collection of 
federal documents relating to Chinese immigration through the Port of San 


The U.S. Customs Service 

ability. Confrontation was perhaps inevitable given the presence 
of a strong port officer directing independent special agents who 
in the past had worked with, not under, customs collectors. 
Appointments to the Chinese Bureau quickly became the main 
bone of contention, to the point that the Secretary of the 
Treasury was forced in 1 896 to admonish the senior special agent 
not to "interfere in any manner with the prerogatives of the 
Collector" in matters governing appointments in the Chinese 
Bureau or anywhere else in the customhouse. Special Agent 
H.A. Moore replied to the Treasury Secretary that the appoint- 
ment issued was critical to the operation of the Chinese Bureau, 
for Collector Jackson, not trusting the Asian interpreters, 
wanted to replace them with whites. Moore, for his part, 
considered white interpreters weak in language skills and refused 
to fire Chu Gang, his chief interpreter for some years, for whose 
integrity he vouched. The contretemps symbolized the internal 
impediments to the smooth operation of the Chinese Bureau. 9 
The work of the Chinese Bureau was also undermined by the 
amorality of venal steamship companies, notably the Pacific 
Mail Steamship Company. According to some historians Pacific 
Mail was "the clearing house for overseas prostitution"; it 
controlled American shipping in Hong Kong, which was also the 
center of Chinese emigration to the United States. All the 
shipping companies attempted to smuggle in as many illegal 

9 H.A. Moore to Treasury Secretary John G. Carlisle, November 13 and 
27, 1896; and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury to Moore, November 21, 
1896, Entry 19, "Cases Related to the Immigration of Chinese Women at San 
Francisco'' RG 36, U.S. Customs Service Papers, U.S. Treasury Records, 
National Archives, Washington, D.C. 

Normal patronage problems were always at hand. In 1901, for example, 
one of California's U.S. Senators wrote the customs collector reminding him 
that a Grand Army Post had endorsed the appointment to the Customs 
Service of a needy former colonel in the Union Army in the Civil War. The 
appointment was made. George Perkins to Mason S. Blackburn, February 5, 
1901, Series 13, Box 3, (1901-1903), "Letters to the Collector from the 
Secretary of the Treasury Re Personnel, 1896-1918," RG 36, U.S. Bureau of 
Customs Records, Port of San Francisco Administrative Records 1857-1947, 
San Bruno Federal Records Center, National Archives, San Bruno, Califor- 


Enforcing the Chinese Exclusion Act 

immigrants as possible, mainly women, because it was so 
lucrative. These steamship companies placed intolerable pressure 
on the customs collector. According to Collector Jackson in 
1898, the companies "complained urgently and bitterly" at any 
delay in admitting their "passengers^' and pressed for quick 
decisions when that was impossible. The Customs Service, 
mindful that it might be consigning women to short, brutal lives 
of prostitution, held them until their documentation could be 
verified, preferring for the women the uncertainty of deportation 
to China to the certainty of a brief life as a sex slave. The 
companies wanted to land their human cargo quickly so that 
they could get their money from the smugglers and avoid 
Government room and board charges while their passengers were 
in detention. 10 

Young, unaccompanied women and girls were always suspect 
to customs officers, but men claiming to be returning home after 
visits abroad, or groups of arrivals claiming family relationships, 
were much harder to pin down and were thus detained. Ironi- 
cally, the first detention shed was constructed on the dock of the 
Pacific Mail Steamship Company, an outfit whose reputation for 
colluding with immigrant smugglers was infamous. The mu uk, 
a "wooden house" in which detainees were incarcerated, was 
notoriously "unsafe and unsanitary" — a visible symbol of the 
degradation imposed on the Chinese by the 1882 law. The 
symbol survived until 1910, when the detention barracks were 
finally removed to Angel Island, where quarantine facilities for 
Asian immigrants had already been erected. 11 

Several sources indicate that the shed held as many as 300 to 
400 people in seriously crowded conditions. Chinese community 

10 Customs Collector Jackson to Treasury Secretary Lyman Gage, August 
8, 1898, Item 1, "Press Copies of Letters From the Collector to the Secretary 
of the Treasury, 1869-1912," RG 36, US. Bureau of Customs Records, Port of 
San Francisco, 1869-1931, San Bruno Federal Records Center, National 
Archives, San Bruno, California; Sean O. Callaghan, The Yellow Slave Trade 
(London: 1968), p. 40; Marilynn Johnson, "Chinese Slave Prostitution in San 
Francisco, 1850-1930," (honors thesis, Stanford University, 1979), p. 16. 

11 Lai, Lim, and Yung, Island, p. 13. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

leaders in San Francisco for years pleaded for more humane 
facilities on Angel Island, a position supported by the Customs 
Service for quite different reasons: By the late 1890's, customs 
officials "felt that the island location would prevent the Chinese 
immigrants from communicating with Chinese on the outside 
and would isolate immigrants with allegedly 'communicable' 
diseases." Transfer of detention facilities to Angel Island would, 
in the eyes of Customs, make detention "escape proof." But for 
nearly 15 years, the jerry-built mu uk on the Pacific Mail dock 
was the place where the incoming Chinese spent their first days, 
weeks or months. 12 

The major cause of detention was the loophole in the 1882 
act that permitted U.S. -born Chinese to return to the United 
States, but denied them valid U.S. passports because they were 
Orientals. The United States claimed that it did not want to 
recognize the national passports of a hopelessly carved up and 
weak China, a recognition that would have permitted Chinese 
nationals to apply for visas to visit or trade. So it was that 
Chinese leaving the United States had to establish elaborate 
credentials with Customs before their departure, and those 
credentials took time to verify on return. Barring that, affidavits 
from two Americans, Oriental or white, could permit an immi- 
grant to enter the United States, if no negative evidence turned 
up in interrogations — but this procedure also took time and 
produced detentions. So Customs found itself in a no-win 
situation: damned if it permitted rapid entry on perfunctory 
checks and damned if it detained Chinese arrivals for deep 
checks. The continuing scarcity of customs staff aggravated the 

In 1898 Pacific Mail and other companies stepped up their 
service of transporting Chinese to America, and they increas- 

12 Ibid. See also John P. Jackson to Lyman Gage, August 8, 1898, Item 
1, "Press Copies of Letters from the Collector to the Secretary of the 
Treasury, 1869-1912;' RG 36, U.S. Bureau of Customs Records, Port of San 
Francisco, 1869-1931, San Bruno Federal Records Center, National Archives, 
San Bruno, California. 


Enforcing the Chinese Exclusion Act 

ingly relied on the claim that the arrivals were returning Amer- 
icans. If delays in admission ensued, the companies threatened 
legal action for violation of the rights of American citizens. 
Detentions at this point peaked, and overcrowding remained the 
norm for the next five years on the Pacific Mail dock. The San 
Francisco customs collector claimed that the 1898 escalation of 
the lucrative ferrying of Chinese to America was "the beginning 
of an onslaught against the Chinese Exclusion Acts and the 
[Chinese] Treaty of 1894." That "onslaught" also had its 
victims. Mainly in the form of poems written on or carved into 
the walls of the later facilities on Angel Island, Chinese immi- 
grants left a record of their anger and frustration. 13 

With a gentle breeze I arrived at the city 

At ease, how was one to know he would live 

in a wooden building? 
Thousands, maybe tens of thousands, lived in a wooden build- 
ing, hoping for clearance to enter the "Land of the Flowery 
Flag," as the immigrants referred to America. One detainee 
spoke of "tens of thousands" of poems on the walls. Another 
spoke more realistically of "over a hundred poems, all pining at 
delayed progress": 

What can one sad person say to another? 

Unfortunate travelers everywhere wish to commiserate. 
The poems "are all cries of complaint and sadness": 

The day I am rid of this prison and attain success, 

I must remember that this chapter once existed. 
Anger was a common theme: 

Because of the records the innocent was imprisoned 

in a wooden building . . . 

My application has not yet been dismissed. 

13 For descriptions of overcrowding, see ibid. See also J. Hollywood to 
Mason S. Blackburn, February 21, 1901, Series 13, Box 3, (1901-1903), 
"Letters to the Collector From the Secretary of the Treasury Re Personnel, 
1896-1918;' RG 36, U.S. Bureau of Customs Records, Port of San Francisco 
Administrative Records, 1857-1947, San Bruno Federal Records Center, 
National Archives, San Bruno, California. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

As I record my situation, it really provokes 

my anger. . . . 

I am like a pigeon in a cage. 
Still more angrily, another anonymous writer promised: 

If the land of the Flowery Flag is occupied by 

us in turn, 

The wooden building will be left for the 

angel's revenge. 


Wait till the day I become successful and 

fulfill my wish! 

I will not speak of love when I level the 

immigration station! 
Angry or depressed, all understood what was coming. They 
would have to run the gauntlet of questions by the customs 
officers assigned to immigration duties: 

Still I am at the beginning of the road. 

I have yet to be interrogated. 

My heart is nervous with anticipation. 14 
Perspective was everything; from the Chinese immigrant's point 
of view, the detention and interrogation process was brutal; to the 
customs officer it was a job that needed doing, often by persons 
who understood the pain they were inflicting. In an oral interview 
conducted many years later, one customs officer commented: "We 
just worked on the theory that this was the law and we had to carry 
it out. I felt each was entitled to a fair deal and I tried to give it to 
him as best I could. In a way it [the law discriminating against the 
Chinese] did touch me, and when the Exclusion Law was repealed, 
I thought that was a good thing." 15 

By 1897, the problem with male immigrants was more or less 
under control. If the person had no exit papers from the United 
States, as provided by the 1882 law, customs officers had to deal 

14 The poetry may be found in Lai, Lim, and Yung, Island, pp. 34, 36, 56, 
62, 66, 92, 159. 

15 Oral interview, "Inspector #1," in ibid., p. 110. 


Enforcing the Chinese Exclusion Act 

with the usual two witnesses claiming the incoming person was a 
returning American. They tried to interrogate these "returning" 
men in such a way as to treat returning Chinese- Americans fairly 
while tripping up newcomers. In a not uncommon case, the San 
Francisco customs collector reported to the Secretary of the 
Treasury that Jew Sing Yuen, who claimed to be a returning 
merchant, was denied admission and deported despite the affi- 
davits of two San Francisco attorneys, because interrogation 
belied his claim that he had lived in Chinatown: 

"He is entirely ignorant regarding the location of the streets, 
etc., in Chinatown, where he claims to have been a resident 
merchant for eight years'' Customs Inspector John Wise wrote. 
It was not requisite that Yuen should be "a living street guided 
Wise noted. "Still, when a man claims to have lived on a certain 
street for eight years, he should certainly know whether or not 
there was a street car line on that street." The two attorneys had 
to be wrong, Wise added, and Yuen would be detained until 
Treasury ruled on his case. 16 

The individual stakes, high as they were for men, were much 
higher for incoming women. Often, it seemed to customs and 
immigration officials and reformers alike, the lesser of two evils 
was deportation; the greater curse was for Customs to acquiesce 
passively in imposing on women a life of unwilling yellow slavery 
as prostitutes in the brothels of Chinatown. 

The Port of San Francisco and the Slave Trade in Chinese 


Virtually all the Chinese women who had come to the United 
States before the 1882 act cut off entry were wives and daughters 

16 John Wise to Lyman Gage, April 16, 1897, Item 1, "Press Copies of 
Letters from the Collector to the Secretary of the Treasury, 1869-1912;' RG 
36, U.S. Bureau of Customs, Port of San Francisco, General Records, 
1869-1931, San Bruno Federal Records Center, National Archives, San 
Bruno, California. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

of the Chinese merchant middle and upper classes in San 
Francisco's Chinatown. Because the dollar value of prostitutes 
was so high, smugglers of women and girls became increasingly 
inventive. "Returning" wives and daughters abounded, aided by 
a poorly drawn law that permitted two witnesses to attest to the 
truth of a re-entry claim. With pimps' lawyers present at the 
dock, customs agents were severely restricted in detaining women 
while claims were investigated or further documentation sought. 
Using the power of habeus corpus, these attorneys prevented 
prolonged detention that, as we have seen, was itself dehuman- 
izing. Long before the witness claims and false papers could be 
exposed, the unsuspecting women and girls had disappeared into 
the bordellos of Chinatown. 17 

The groups involved in smuggling just one woman into San 
Francisco as a citizen or permanent resident might include a 
pimp, like Little Pete (the most visible procurer on the docks 
until his murder in 1897); a local white attorney; two "witnesses'' 
paid $30 each; and a coach to brief the woman on her story and 
the geography of San Francisco's Chinatown. Customs Collector 
John Wise, commenting on dealing with female arrivals, noted 
"if there are any prostitutes among them, they would generally 
be found among those who claim to be native born." 18 

According to several sources, a Chinese prostitute could be 
sold on the docks for an average of $400 in the 1890's, but prices 
of $2,800 and $2,900 were not unknown, especially for women 
purchased as concubines for wealthy Chinese or rich whites. The 
whole sordid operation was, in fact, big business. 19 

17 For a good overview, see Johnson, "Chinese Slave Prostitution in San 
Francisco^' pp. 32-35, and passim. 

18 Ibid. See also Charles E. Holder, "Chinese Slavery in America," North 
American Review, vol. CXXXV (1897), p. 291. For Little Pete, see Richard H. 
Dillon, The Hatchet Men, 2d ed. (Sausalito, Calif.: 1972), chapter 12, titled 
"Little Pete: King of Chinatown." 

19 Johnson, "Chinese Slave Prostitution in San Francisco" pp. 17-18, and 
table following p. 28; George F. Paulsen, "The Yellow Peril at Nogales: The 
Ordeal of Collector William M. HoeyT Arizona and the West, vol. XIII 
(1971), p. 115; Herbert Asbury, The Barbary Coast (New York: 1957), p. 181; 
and Dillon, The Hatchet Men, p. 155. 


Enforcing the Chinese Exclusion Act 

With profits like this at stake, special agents assigned to work 
under the supervision of the customs collector were hard-pressed 
to impede the traffic. But they tried, often pursuing belatedly 
discovered illegals into the brothels of Chinatown. A heretofore 
unused source indicates just how hard-working these customs 
agents were. Buried deep among miscellaneous customs doc- 
uments in the National Archives is a notebook turned in by 
special customs agents working out of San Francisco in 1896-97. 
This notebook provides dramatic insight into the smuggling 
operation as a whole, the efforts of the Customs Service to 
impede it, and the role of religious and reform elements in the 
community to rescue enslaved women. 20 Incidentally, if this 
source reflects an ordinary period of activity, a much larger 
number of women entered this country in the 1880's and 1890's 
than census returns suggest. 

The official census figures project that fewer than 1,500 
Chinese women and girls landed "legally" in each of the last two 
decades of the 19th century. 21 The notebook's figure of 107 
female detainees during the six months from August 1896 to 
February 1897 works out to more than 2,000 women "legally" 
entering the country in the 1890's through San Francisco alone. 
If the number of women smuggled through other ports and 
across land borders is also taken into account (discussed later), 
as well as women not detained as they entered the Port of San 
Francisco, official legal entries clearly topped 3,500 for the 
"Mauve Decade." 22 

The 107 detained in the six-month period were held on 
suspicion of being illegal immigrants. Customs agents identified 
the "witnesses" who swore to the legality of the women as 
"procurers" or "proprietors" of "houses of ill fame." Few if any 

20 Entry 19, "Tabulated Index of the 107 Chinese Women Cases Landed 
at San Francisco from August 13, '96 to Feb. 20, '97," RG 36, U.S. Customs 
Service Records, National Archives, Washington, D.C. 

21 See note 19. 

22 The term "Mauve Decade" as applied to the 1890's was coined by 
Thomas Beer, who used it as the title of his book, The Mauve Decade (New 
York: 1941). Mauve, as Beer explained it, is "pink trying to look purple." 


The U.S. Customs Service 

of the entering women knew what was in store for them, so they 
learned their entry coaching lessons all too well, and were 
usually admitted and rarely deported. Threatened with lawsuits 
by Chinese entrepreneurs and their white attorneys and blitzed 
with paperwork at the docks, the undermanned cadre of special 
customs agents could seek to rescue individual women only when 
the opportunity arose. The 1882 law placed the burden of proof 
clearly on the Customs Service, so women usually could not be 
detained for more than two weeks, while Customs sought to 
uncover some evidence of their illegal entry. 23 But even as 
customs officers worked on recent entries, the influx of women 

The Pacific Mail Company's packet ship Peru was singled out 
as a "notorious yellow slave ship." In the six month period 
covered by the notebook, it alone landed 41 women; the Rio was 
right behind with 37. Five customs agents constituting the port's 
"Chinese Bureau" (Meredith, Boyce, Weller, Harrison, and 
Moore — the latter its supervisor) attempted to hold back the 
tide. The addresses the women gave as their residences were all 
well-known houses of prostitution (mostly on Washington, 
Jackson, and Dupont streets, and Ross Alley, all in Chinatown). 
So weak was the law and so ignorant of their destinations were 
these Chinese women, that even this knowledge in advance of 
entry on the part of customs officers could not legally bar 
admission of the women if they chose to enter the United 
States. 24 

What the customs agents did was to ask their Chinese 
interpreters to inform the detained women of their impending 
fate and to give them information about the Presbyterian 
Mission of San Francisco, better known simply as the Rescue 
Home, located at 920 Sacramento Street in Chinatown. As the 
next section details, customs agents from the collector down 

23 Entry 19, "Tabulated index of the 107 Chinese Women Cases Landed at 
San Francisco from August 13, '96 to Feb. 20, '97," RG 36, U.S. Customs 
Service Records, National Archives, Washington, D.C. 

24 Ibid. 


Enforcing the Chinese Exclusion Act 

worked closely with the mission to rescue the Chinese women 
from the fate intended for them. The numbers rescued each year 
could be counted in the tens; the numbers entering houses of 
prostitution in the hundreds. Still, rescue efforts never ceased, 
and sources clearly indicate that customs agents put their jobs on 
the line by helping in rescue operations both officially and on 
their own time. 25 

Fighting the Slave Trade: Customs and the Rescue Home 

The Presbyterian Mission went to any lengths, including 
kidnappings, to extricate enslaved women from the bordellos; 
and customs officers did what they could to help. The home's 
founder, Margaret Culbertson, dramatically expanded her ef- 
forts to rescue women when she hired Donaldina Cameron in 
1895; the latter went far beyond the public relations campaign 
mounted earlier by Culbertson, invading the brothels themselves 
to bring out illegally held prostitutes. 26 

Margaret Culbertson had been inveighing against the slave 
trade since the 1880's. "Women are bought and sold in China- 
town every day and we have not been able to prevent it," she 
wrote in 1896. "Cannot anyone suggest a plan to remedy the 
evil?" Her young assistant could. Not only did Donaldina 
Cameron invade the brothels or, barring that, intercept and 
kidnap young women as they were being taken from the docks to 
Chinatown, she also sought to arouse public indignation by 
writing about the subject in the newspapers. 27 Cameron also 
cultivated the support of the Customs Service. 

As her influence in the city and her contacts in the Customs 

Ibid. See also Carol Green Wilson, Chinatown Quest: The Life 
Adventures of Donaldina Cameron (Palo Alto, Calif.: 1931) pp. 33, 42, 
46-47, and passim. 

26 For a complete description of the work of the Rescue Home and the life 
of Donaldina Cameron, see ibid. 

27 Dillion, The Hatchet Men, p. 152; and Johnson, "Slave Prostitution in 
San Francisco," pp. 25, 38. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Service increased, Cameron was able to recommend sympathetic 
individuals for customs appointments. One customs inspector 
assigned as an interpreter to the Chinese Bureau recollected, "I 
[had] just [come] out of college. I knew Miss Cameron, who was 
respected by the [customs] people. Of course, she took a chance 
writing me a letter of introduction and vouching for me." 

For years this appointee was able to warn Cameron of an 
arriving immigrant whose papers were suspect; illegal entry 
could perhaps be proven so that a rescue attempt could be 
made. 28 The red tape involved in proving illegality was incredi- 
ble. The Treasury Department and the Attorney General ruled 
that suspicious papers had to be sent to Washington for testing 
and examination. By the time the test had substantiated the 
forgery allegations, the women had disappeared into China- 
town. Nevertheless, with foreknowledge of their destinations — if 
the women had not subsequently been moved — customs agents, 
police, and Donaldina Cameron herself would take part in rescue 
raids. 29 

Special Agent H. A. Moore, who was the dock supervisor of 
the Chinese Bureau at the San Francisco customhouse, contin- 
ually complained to both the collector and to Washington about 
the admission of women destined for forced prostitution. In 
once instance, when he protested vehemently the use of habeus 
corpus to admit three such women, the collector who preceded 
Jackson wryly observed that "on that subject [prostitution] " 
Moore "is considered to be the ablest expert on that line on the 
Pacific Coast." Not offered as a compliment, it nevertheless 
suggests Moore's relentlessness in attempting to halt the flow of 
enslaved women. Another agent, John Robinson, actual took 
part in raids on brothels to rescue women eventually found to 
have entered illegally. He was described as a "life-long friend of 

28 Lai, Lim, and Yung, Island, p. 113. 

29 Special Agent H.A. Moore to the Secretary of the Treasury, April 1, 
1897, Entry 19, "Tabulated Index of the 107 Chinese Women Cases Landed 
at San Francisco from August 13, '96 to Feb. 20, '97;' RG 36, U.S. Customs 
Service Records, National Archives, Washington, D.C. 


Enforcing the Chinese Exclusion Act 

the Chinese, as well as of the work of the Sacramento Street" 
Rescue Home. 30 

As their suspicions on illegal entry of women were officially 
verified, the special agents of the Chinese Bureau repeatedly fed 
their information to Donaldina Cameron, who raided the broth- 
els when such expeditions held out any promise of success. Few 
of the rescued women ever arrived at customs for deportation, so 
the Service was obviously going beyond the law to try to both 
circumvent an immoral immigration act and help rescue at least 
a few of the doomed women. When a woman escaped to the 
Rescue Home and could provide names of others at the brothel 
held against their will, the customs officers would provide proof 
of the illegal entry of the latter. For example, customs special 
agents reported to Cameron, "The girl Chan Yoke is in house of 
ill-fame. So is Chan Choy. These came with the girl who escaped 
to the Rescue Home." Customs agents would also pass on to 
Cameron the addresses for which women were destined; "816 
DuPont St.," a customs agent noted, is an "address that has 
answered for so many girls." When a witness was suspect, that 
information would also be passed on: Chun Ying, a frequent 
witness, "is apparently interested in 4 girls this trip," agents 
informed Cameron. 31 

John P. Jackson, the San Francisco customs collector at the 
turn of the century, was frequently an accomplice in the rescue 
efforts. Jackson had been a colonel in the Union Army during 
the Civil War and was clearly committed to stopping the 
enslavement of Chinese women. He often testified at trials, 

30 John H. Wise to Treasury Secretary Lyman Gage, May 7, 1897, item 1, 
"Press Copies of Letters From the Collector of Customs to the Secretary of 
the Treasury, 1869-1912;' RG 36, General Records of the U.S. Bureau of 
Customs, Port of San Francisco, 1869-1931, San Bruno Federal Records 
Center, National Archives, San Bruno, California; and Wilson, Chinatown 
Quest, pp. 52-53. 

31 All of the above information is culled from Entry 19, "Tabulated Index 
of the 107 Chinese Women Cases Landed at San Francisco from August 13, 
'96 to Feb. 20, '97," RG 36, U.S. Customs Service Records, National 
Archives, Washington, D.C. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

attempting to gain the release of illegally landed prostitutes to 
Donaldina Cameron's care at the mission. After one of her raids 
on a brothel, she not only "liberated" a prostitute whose illegal 
entry could be proved, she also came away with an infant girl 
found at the brothel. Jackson told her to take the baby to the 
Rescue Home, assuring her that, officially, "the matter is 
forgotten." Cameron's biographer concluded: "How he [Jack- 
son] untangled the official skein is a mystery; but that little 
"daughter" remained in the custody of the home to grow up with 
the other babies born there. 32 Jackson and others eventually 
succeeded in getting the home approved by the federal govern- 
ment as a sanctuary where women who had illegally entered the 
country could be "detained" indefinitely, a euphemism to avoid 
having to deport them or to return them to the brothels from 
which they had been rescued. 33 

Stemming the "Yellow Peril": The Land Borders 

San Francisco was not the only point of entry for Chinese 
immigrants. The Mexican and Canadian borders also proved 
vulnerable to violations of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. In 
some obvious ways, the former seems reminiscent of today's 
border problems. Current headlines such as "Mexico's Border 
Crisis: Illegal Aliens from the South" 34 might have served as 
well in the 1890's. In another sense, however, the parallel falls 
short. A recent headline reads, "Business Joins the Border 
Patrol" in attempting to end illegal immigration through 
Mexico. 35 If business sometimes cooperates in attempting to 
head off illegal entry in the 1980's (although modern farming 
interests with their exploitation of "migrant" workers and 
clothing businesses with their sweatshops make it impossible to 

32 Wilson, Chinatown Quest, p. 33, 42. 
33 Ibid., pp. 46-47. 

34 Los Angeles Times, October 20, 1986. 
35 Business Week, October 27, 1986, p. 41. 


Enforcing the Chinese Exclusion Act 

generalize about cooperation), that was never the case in the 
1890's. As we have seen, "business" then was the sole source of 
illegal entry for women brought in to work in houses of 

The problems with the land border with Mexico can be 
illustrated by a look at the illegal entry process through the twin 
border towns of Sonora, Mexico, and Nogales, Arizona Terri- 
tory. Smugglers of Chinese in the 1890's exploited the Sonoran 
Pacific Railroad, which ran from the Mexican port of Guaymas 
on the Gulf to Nogales, Arizona, where it joined lines to San 
Francisco. The route was far from foolproof. The Customs 
Service had extraordinary success in turning the traffic around; 
reputedly, attempts were made to smuggle in some 6,000 Chinese 
between 1882 and 1910, and half of these were caught and 
deported. Such was the value of those who gained illegal entry, 
particularly women, that the enterprise still proved profitable. 36 
Many of those entering were Chinese laborers who sought entry 
to better their lives. At least one of these confirmed that 
overland routes were difficult. A poem found on the walls of 
Angel Island reads: 

The road is far for the traveller; ten thousand li 
is difficult. 
May I advise you not to sneak across the border 

The difficult and dangerous conditions are not worth 
your inquiries. 

These are not idle words. 37 

Given the high profit for women sold into slavery and the 
gains from treating Chinese men like contract labor, smugglers 
continued to find the risk acceptable. The infamous ringleader 
in Sonora was Yung Ham, who followed an all-too-familiar 
procedure: Illegals were kept in small towns along the railroad, 

36 The border smuggling of Chinese at Nogales, Arizona Territory, is 
described in George E. Paulsen, "The Yellow Peril at Nogales: The Ordeal of 
Collector William M. HoeyT in Arizona and the West, vol. XIII (1971), pp. 

37 Lai, Lim, and Yung, Island, p. 168. A li is about a third of a mile. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

entered the United States in small groups and "were conducted 
across the line in some uninhabited area and turned over to an 
agent" on American soil; the American "agent" completed the 
process. William M. Hoey, appointed customs collector at 
Nogales, Arizona, in 1899, was both incorruptible and forceful 
in seeking to end the traffic. Framed by local Arizona business 
interests and corrupt customs agents, according to one historian, 
he was removed from office and tried in 1901. Although he was 
acquitted after a trial based on the flimsiest evidence, his 
reputation was ruined and he never got his customs job back. 38 

The long, sparsely populated Canadian border was difficult 
to guard. Trouble spots stretched from Puget Sound, Washing- 
ton, to Plattsburgh, New York. Port Townsend, Washington, in 
Puget Sound, was about 15 miles south of the Canadian border. 
According to a recent historian, "fewer than twenty" customs 
officers were usually stationed at the port, even though "only the 
San Francisco customhouse issued more Chinese labor certifi- 
cates than the Port Townsend facility." 39 

Virtually coincident with the passage of the 1882 Chinese 
Exclusion Act, the Canadian Pacific Railroad was completed, 
causing the release of about 9,000 Chinese workers. These 
workers, and newly arrived immigrants (mainly women), gath- 
ered in British Columbian towns awaiting a chance to enter the 
United States. The Canadian Pacific Steamship Company was 
responsible for large numbers of the new arrivals, knowingly 
selling Chinese passengers through tickets from China to Canada 
and on to the United States. The result was a major organized 
effort to smuggle Chinese across the border. 

An 1891 incident illustrates how things worked. A San 
Francisco-owned schooner, the Halcyon (described at the time as 
a "notorious smuggling vessel"), was sighted in Puget Sound. 
The Port Townsend revenue cutter Oliver Wolcott (named after 

38 Paulsen, "The Yellow Peril at Nogales;' Arizona and the West, vol. 
XIII (1971), pp. 114, 116, and passim. 

39 Roland L. DeLorme, "The United States Bureau of Customs and 
Smuggling on Puget Sound, 1851 to 1913;' Prologue, vol. V (1973), p. 81. 


Enforcing the Chinese Exclusion Act 

the second Secretary of the Treasury) was dispatched to inter- 
cept, but this effort was ineffectual because the Halcyon stayed 
in Canadian waters; "local smugglers [of opium as well as people 
in this case] had rendezvoused in small boats before sailing for 
American ports." Given the plethora of small inlets in Puget 
Sound on both sides of the border, it seems like a miracle, 
looking at a map, that anyone was ever caught. 40 

By the late 1880's, however, smugglers of Chinese considered 
western border crossings too risky. Instead, new arrivals were 
transported to Toronto or Montreal by an apparently acquiescent 
Canadian Pacific Railway; then they were moved southward to 
one of several eastern border crossings in New York or Vermont. 
For example, in 1899, the collector of customs in Pembina, 
North Dakota, asked the Treasury Department to notify ports of 
entry "convenient to Toronto" to watch out for Woo Deok. The 
latter had been turned away at Pembina because his papers were 
suspect; like many would-be entrants, Woo Deok claimed to be 
working for a Chinese laundry in New York City. The ruse 
apparently often worked, if ruse it was. The deputy customs 
collector at Plattsburgh, New York, reported only four arrests in 
that town in a 12-month period in 1898-99; one person was 
released, and three were deported. 

If there was the least chance that a person was a legal entrant, 
that person was admitted. To do otherwise was to bring down on 
the heads of customs personnel a barrage of lawyers, writs, and 
witnesses. 41 For example, a Scranton, Pennsylvania, law firm 
protested that Plattsburgh customs agents were illegally detain- 
ing Charlie Chee who, the firm contended, had been born in 
Scranton and had a valid passport obtained by the attorneys. 

40 Ibid, pp. 81-85. Pembina, North Dakota, was another favorite western 
crossing point during the 1880's and early 1890's. See N. E. Nelson to 
Treasury Secretary Lyman Gage, July 10, 1899, and John Martin to V. S. 
Woodward, June 30, 1899, Entry 1769, "Correspondence Re Chinese Immi- 
grants or Deportees;' RG 36, U.S. Customs Service Records, National 
Archives, Washington, D.C. 

41 Ibid. See particularly V. S. Woodward's notes on John Martin's June 
30, 1899, letter. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

"The government," Chee's lawyers noted, "ought to recognize 
their own passports." The incident demonstrates, among other 
things, that document forgeries were very good and that the 
proportion of valid re-entrants was high enough to force Cus- 
toms to be very cautious in the matter of detention. 42 

Chinese citizens and residents leaving the country went to 
great lengths to protect themselves. Rooney and Spence was a 
firm of "Customs Brokers" in New York City that specialized in 
handling people as well as goods. Its main business was handling 
the paperwork for exiting Chinese. For example, the firm wrote 
to the deputy collector at Malone, New York, notifying him that 
one of its Chinese clients was about to go to Canada; he was a 
"merchant of very high standing," the brokers added. "What 
papers would you require in order to secure his re-admission into 
this country?" the firm asked. 43 

All detentions became matters of official attention. Special 
Customs Agent J. Thomas Scarf uncovered one scheme that was 
presented to a Vermont grand jury. It was alleged that would-be 
illegal immigrants were brought east on the Canadian Pacific to 
Montreal, then transported south, where they were hidden in a 
local Chinese laundry until their forged papers and witnesses 
could be lined up and they could be brought across. The jury 
refused to indict, leaving customs officials frustrated, as usual. 44 

In summary, the more important point in all this is that the 
Customs Service, with an inadequate staff, was involved in 

42 Ibid., Taylor and Lewis to Customs Collector at Plattsburgh, New 
York, June 13, 1889. 

43 Ibid., Rooney and Spense to Deputy Customs Collector V. Gibson, 
April 21, 1899. 

^Grand Jury Report, March 6, 1897, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury 
to Collector of Customs at Plattsburgh, New York, April 26, 1897, and 
passim, Box 1897-1910, Entry 144, "Letters Received from the Attorney 
General, 1831-1910;' RG 56, Treasury Department Records, National Ar- 
chives, Washington, D.C. 

See also Assistant Secretary of the Treasury to C.J. Smith, March 5, 1896; 
Attorney General Judson Harmon to Treasury Secretary John G. Carlisle, 
February 27, 1896; and Carlisle to Harmon, May 26, 1896, in ibid., Box 
1882-1896, for another example of the same kind of thing. 


Enforcing the Chinese Exclusion Act 

enforcing an unfair and immoral law that was badly drawn to 
boot. Customs' caution in pursuing all but the most flagrant 
violations was necessary because it was ultimately responsible 
for protecting the long-standing and basic traditions of Ameri- 
can civil liberties — perhaps its most important responsibility, 
when all is said and done. By 1910, the role of the Customs 
Service as the de facto American immigration agency had ended. 
A separate and coordinated immigration service had picked up 
the burden. Yet Customs' history as America's first immigration 
agency should not go unnoticed, for customs officials carried 
out their duties with compassion and deference to the highest 
traditions of American civil liberties. 


Chapter VIII 

The Customs Service's responsibility for enforcing the Chi- 
nese Exclusion Act presaged a shift in enforcement priorities that 
was to define many of Customs' activities in the 20th century. 
Along with its traditional duty to protect the revenue, the agency 
was now being asked to protect the national character. Ameri- 
cans at the turn of the century were beginning to realize the 
extent of their country's growth and power. Giant industrial 
cities teemed with immigrant workers who neither dressed, nor 
spoke, nor worshiped the same way native Americans did. The 
nation had also acquired an empire, and a place among the 
nations of the world. Would — could — America retain its moral 
integrity in the face of these new conditions, populations, and 

These anxieties led many Americans into a campaign to 
protect their national purity. Fired by the Progressives' faith in 
the power of law to improve society, Congress passed laws to 
curb what it saw as the most immediate evils. Restricting 
immigration was just a first step. Prohibiting the distribution 
and consumption of alcohol, drugs, and pornography followed. 

Because many of these items enter the United States from 
abroad, the Customs Service became the first line of defense. As 
always, the agency's responsibility outweighed its resources to do 
the job. It was told — not asked — to enforce morality, an unen- 


The U.S. Customs Service 

viable task at any time. Inevitably, from 1882 on, Customs 
became a social as well as a revenue agency. 

This alliance of economics and morality has never been easy 
to maintain. Three major problems have plagued Customs' 

1 . The laws regarding these moral issues are very difficult to 
enforce. Much of the legislation has been poorly framed, and, 
because it affects personal behavior, it garners little public 
cooperation or support. 

2. The ups and downs of the federal budget have meant 
inadequate funding for customs projects and personnel. 

3. Congressionally mandated cooperation with other agen- 
cies has caused bureaucratic competition and confusion. These 
themes can be seen in the role of the Customs Service in the 
drama of national Prohibition. 

Demon Rum 

National Prohibition was not an idea that sprang full-blown 
and fully articulated from the collective brain of the 65th 
Congress. Americans have always been a thirsty people, given to 
muttering about doing something to curb that thirst as they lift 
their elbows and drain their glasses. The colony of Georgia, 
established as an experiment in philanthropy and prison reform, 
was a dry colony by act of Parliament for the better part of its 
first decade. 1 By the end of the 18th century Dr. Benjamin Rush 
echoed the churches' demands for purity of one's soul by 
chronicling alcohol's detrimental effects on the purity of one's 

The census takers who traveled the nation's highways and 
back roads in 1810 reported 14,000 distilleries of all sizes, which 

'Malcolm F. Willoughby, Rum War at Sea (Washington, D.C.: 1914), p. 
3. For evidence of America's long love affair with hard drink, see William 
Rorabaugh, The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition (New York: 


Customs and Alcohol 

produced more than 25 million gallons a year — enough to 
provide every American man, woman, and child with more than 
three gallons of hard stuff beyond the usual beer, wine, and fizzy 
cider. With the spread of the factory system in the early days of 
the Republic, drink became an economic as well as a physical 
problem. Drunkenness led to absenteeism, and lost work days 
meant lost income for worker and master. For early 19th-century 
reformers, the horror of poverty lay behind their horror of 
drink. A perceived economic threat to the nation motivated the 
growing effort to legislate morality. 

The drive to control alcohol had other roots as well. The 
German and Irish immigrants who swelled the population in the 
first half of the 19th century brought their taste for beer and 
whiskey with them. Drink was an important part of their culture. 
Prohibiting its use took an important symbol away from a visible 
and threatened minority. Although this xenophobic link was not 
explicitly articulated, it could be argued that Americans hoped 
to control these immigrant populations by controlling their 
alcohol consumption. 2 

By 1820, many Americans were urging abstinence instead of 
temperance. Those joining the American Society for the Promo- 
tion of Temperance pledged to refrain from all alcohol by placing 
a "T" next to their names and becoming "teetotalers." As the 
American Temperance Union, this group lobbied for the legal 
prohibition of the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. 
In 1851, it persuaded the state of Maine to prohibit liquor sales, 
and a dozen other states quickly followed suit. Although tem- 
perance agitation increased public awareness of the evils of 
demon rum and helped cut consumption, temperance zeal soon 
faded. By 1861, enough Americans were drinking again to make 
a liquor tax an attractive way of financing the Civil War. 

By the end of the century, the Prohibition Party, the Women's 
Christian Temperance Union, and Carrie Nation's Anti-Saloon 

2 The deeper meanings of Prohibition are compellingly discussed in 
Joseph R. Gusfield, Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics and the American 
Temperance Movement, 2d ed. (Urbana: 1986). 


The U.S. Customs Service 

League had begun the push for a constitutional prohibition 
amendment. Between 1913, when the amendment was first 
proposed, and 1919, when the states ratified it, league pressure 
on state and local ballots had already enacted prohibition for 
nearly three-quarters of the American people. 

The passage of the 18th Amendment was a great victory for 
America's native middle class; it had managed to impose its 
standards on everyone else's behavior. Prohibition proved impos- 
sible to sustain, however. When Parliament banned liquor from 
Georgia in 1734, it learned that prohibition breeds illegal stills, 
bootleggers, and rum runners (all of which disappeared when 
alcohol became legal again in 1742). The federal government had 
to learn the same lesson. Within eight months of passage, agents 
found a still producing 130 gallons a day operating on the farm 
of a Texas prohibition crusader. Within a year, $10 million worth 
of liquor, 800 cars, and 3,000 stills were seized; 10,000 persons 
were arrested in New York and New England alone. 3 By the time 
the 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933, the noble experiment 
had become a joke, a law more honored in the breach than in the 
observance. That may have been all right for the general 
population, but it was terribly frustrating for the Customs 
Service; after all, whether the law was observed or not, the 
Service still had to enforce it. 

Enforcement Before the National Prohibition Act 

The U.S. Government has been watching the flow of alco- 
holic beverages within and through its borders since there has 
been a Treasury Department. The first customs port surveyors 
measured the quality and quantity of liquors being offloaded at 
their docks and determined the duties due on them. The 
surveyors registered this information on special certificates that 

Allen S. Everest, Rum Across the Border: The Prohibition Era in 
Northern New York (Syracuse: 1978), p. 6. 


Customs and Alcohol 

listed not only the amount and proof, but also the ship's name, 
master, and port of origin. Merchant ships regularly plied the 
Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean to quench the 
thirst of their countrymen, bringing back bottles, barrels, and 
pipes (two hogshead casks) of French brandy, West Indian rum 
and geneva, Spanish red wine, madeira, port, and claret. In 
March 1816, for example, one J. Thorndike imported about 900 
gallons of brandy from Marseilles in one shipload. 4 

As soon as there were laws, of course, there were ways to get 
around them. By the mid- 19th century, alcohol smuggling had 
become a fairly regular topic of Treasury Department circulars to 
customs collectors. An April 1866 notice warned customs offic- 
ers that "merchandise purporting to be Essence of Cayenne, 
Essence of Ginger, Tincture of Camphor, Tincture of Myrrh, 
etc., etc." had been found to be far richer in alcohol than 
essence. The Secretary of the Treasury urged "unusual vigilance" 
and authorized agents who were "entirely satisfied . . . that 
the real object of the Importer is to introduce the Alcohol at a 
lower rate of duty than is provided for in the law" to detain the 
spurious essences and extracts, alert the Department, and await 
further instructions. 5 By the mid-1870's the department had 
been alerted to more open smuggling, and it warned the collec- 
tors to be on the lookout for "vessels and boats upon the lakes 
of the northern, northeastern, and northwestern frontiers of the 
United States, ostensibly engaged in fishing, [which] have been 
used to smuggle Canadian liquors." 6 

Perhaps the most comprehensive enforcement job the Cus- 
toms Service had in the late 19th century, however, was to take 

4 Brandy Import Certificates, 1816, Salem Custom House Records, Box 
28, Essex Institute Historical Collection, Salem, Massachusetts. More infor- 
mation about liquor imports may be found in the folder "Surveyors' 
Certificates Liquors, 1794-1805," Box 49c, in the same collection. 

5 Treasury Department Circular to Collectors of Customs and Others, 
April 3, 1866. All references to Treasury circulars are from the archives of the 
U.S. Customs Service, Washington, D.C. 

6 Treasury Department Circular no. 109, Smuggling in Fishing Craft, 
August 11, 1875. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

responsibility for section 14 of the act of May 17, 1884, titled 
"An Act providing a civil government for Alaska." Congress 
evidently feared trouble on the tundra, for this law prohibited 
breech-loading rifles and ammunition along with intoxicating 
liquors in that territory. Any ship leaving a U.S. port for Alaska 
with these items aboard was required to file a special manifest to 
prove to the collector that these were "necessary supplies and 
equipment of the vessel." Allowances were made, of course, for 
guns going to "white settlers or temporary visitors not traders," 
and for liquors "solely for sacramental, medicinal, mechanical, 
or scientific purposes." 7 

Going after smugglers in the fjords of the Alaskan coast 
already occupied most of the northern customs officers' time. 
The natives were master smugglers, and government agents soon 
realized that they could not pay them as much to inform on their 
colleagues as the smugglers could pay to keep them quiet. Such 
widespread abuse of the law did not surprise William Gouver- 
neur Morris, the Treasury special agent who reported on the state 
of affairs on Sitka Island in 1879. "Let one sojourn for any 
length of time in that humid climate, and if his bones all the way 
up to his throat don't ache to distraction for a drink I am no 
judge of human nature." 8 If a special agent felt this way, one 
can only guess at the thirst of the general population. 

The Alaskans had devised another solution besides smug- 
gling to ease that ache. They blended one gallon of molasses, 
five pounds of flour, one-half a box of yeast powder, and enough 
water to make a thin batter, which they then distilled into 
hoochenoo, or "hooch." Morris, who seemed to speak from 
experience, called this local drink "a vile, poisonous, life and 
soul destroying decoction, . . . which saps the very essence of 

7 Treasury Department Circular no. 53, Executive Order Concerning the 
Importation of Intoxicating Liquors and Breech-loading Rifles and Ammu- 
nition into the Territory of Alaska, May 4, 1887. 

8 William Gouverneur Morris, Report Upon the Customs District, Public 
Service, and Resources of Alaska Territory (Washington, D.C.: 1879), p. 59, 
Beinecke Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. 


Customs and Alcohol 

the human system, producing crime, disease, insanity, and 
death." His solution: prohibit the importation of molasses. 9 

The Alaskan restrictions represented obvious attempts to 
control a large and unfamiliar population suddenly placed under 
American aegis by withholding two of the white man's greatest 
gifts to native peoples — guns and alcohol. In asking Customs to 
enforce this "do as I say, not as I do" law, Congress turned its 
revenue agents into symbols of an arrogant and imperialistic 
national policy. 

Liquor smuggling was a chronic condition along America's 
southern border as well. Customs had mounted its first land 
patrol along the Rio Grande in January 1886, but it did little 
more to suppress what it saw as a fairly minor problem. 10 But 
minor problems have a way of growing. By March 1918, at the 
height of prohibition zeal, a Texas agent, Paul Bernhart, com- 
plained to Philip C. Hanna, an American Consul in Mexico, that 
citizens in his dry state were crossing into Mexico to get a drink 
and bringing one back for later. Bernhart asked for a beefed-up 
"Customs patrol along the boundary" to prevent smuggling. As 
evidence of need, he submitted the Laredo deputy collector's 
statement of frustration at having "only two persons . . . 
assigned to such duty . . . todayT and added that American 
soldiers had been pressed into Customs' service in desperation. 11 

During the 19th century, alcoholic beverages came to be 
reclassified both by the American public and by the Customs 
Service. In 1800, wine and whiskey were commodities to be 
taxed. In 1900, they were public enemies — destroyers of the 
nation's health and morals. In the intervening century, alcohol 
had developed into a symbol associated with foreign populations 
and economic menace. By controling alcohol, Americans hoped 

y Ibid., p. 58. 

10 Arthur C. Millspaugh, Crime Control in the National Government 
(Washington, D.C.: 1937), p. 68. 

11 Paul Bernhart to Philip C. Hanna, March 25, 1918, Document 130, 
Decimal Files 811.114/49-220 (1910-1929), Department of State, RG 59, 
National Archives, Washington, D.C. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

to control — and preserve — their world and their place in it. 
While protecting the revenue, Customs was also shielding an 
insecure nation from its fear that drink would make it weak. It 
was the maturation of this fear that led to the passage of the 18th 

The Noble Experiment: Customs and the 18th Amendment 

On January 1, 1920, the 18th Amendment took effect. From 
then on, there was to be no traffic in or consumption of 
alcoholic beverages within the United States, nor were any to be 
imported or exported. Prohibition was thus an international as 
well as a domestic affair, and that made it a job for the Customs 

The National Prohibition Act— called the Volstead Act- 
covered the licensing and control of the legal manufacture and 
distribution of alcoholic liquors and industrial alcohol. It actu- 
ally had little effect on the nature of customs work, however. The 
service was already entrusted with curbing the smuggling of 
dutiable alcohol; the new law simply rendered all foreign liquor 
illegal. The Volstead Act meant that Customs, in addition to 
enforcing prohibition, had to continue to quash attempts to 
cheat the government, to collect fines and penalties, to help 
prepare criminal cases, and generally to preserve a respect for the 
nation's laws while it defended its revenues. The 3,000 agents 
overseeing every inch of the 18,700-mile border were having 
enough trouble already. 

The very act of declaring wine and whiskey illegal seems to 
have given those drinks an irresistible glamour. Public demand 
swelled and always exceeded supply. Many enterprising and 
entrepreneurial souls undertook to redress that imbalance, with 
the unlooked-for result that Prohibition created a new and very 
healthy industry: rum-running. 

Most of the alcohol smuggled into the United States came 
through middlemen. Liquor was exported from Britain or France 


Customs and Alcohol 

to Canada, the West Indies, or Mexico. From there it could be 
carried into the United States across its land, river, and lake 
borders. During the first four dry years, Canada's liquor imports 
increased six times, Mexico's eight, and the Caribbean Islands 
five. The federal government was modest in its reckoning of 
smuggled booze; in light of the rising alcoholic tide in the 
Nation, the $20 million lost revenue estimated for 1922 seems 
naively low. 12 

Smugglers concentrated in certain key distribution points. 
The Canadian border offered many opportunities, especially 
around the Great Lakes. Smuggling became Detroit's second 
largest industry, employing more than 50,000 people and doing 
about $215 million worth of business a year. The breweries and 
distilleries of southern Ontario produced a variety of beverages 
that were easily stashed in wharves and warehouses before being 
"exported" across the Detroit River. Much of Detroit's smug- 
gling was also done by diversion. Goods shipped by rail from 
Albany to Detroit via Canada would be inspected and sealed by 
customs officers before export. Once in Canada, however, the 
railroad cars could be opened; their cargoes could then be 
switched from dry goods to wet, resealed with artful counterfeits 
of customs seals, and dispatched for an uninspected arrival in 
Detroit. 13 

Smugglers along the New York-Vermont border preferred 
cars, wagons, horses, and hand luggage for transporting their 
liquor. This region was especially hard for the Customs Service 
to patrol because of its unaccommodating terrain and harsh 
weather, not to mention the long expanse of Lake Champlain. 
Officers also faced a problem partly of their own making: they 
closed their understaffed stations at night. 

Although customs agents could do little about nighttime 
caravans of crate-laden cars careening along the mountain roads, 

12 Sean Dennis Cashman, Prohibition: The Lie of the Land (New York: 
1981), pp. 29-30. 

r3 Ibid., pp. 30-32. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

they did become adept at noticing suspicious bulges, bags, and 
bodywork among their diurnal customers. Many men, they 
discovered, had real beer bellies. Women whose silhouettes were 
far from sylphlike were often forced to reveal bottles in their 
underwear. Automobiles with clanks and rattles and new uphol- 
stery also yielded contraband to the customs inspectors. 

Although to today's eyes these smuggling stories seem quaint 
and attractively antiestablishment, it must be remembered that 
not all the alcohol smuggled in was for personal use or limited 
distribution. The promise of liquor profits drew big operators as 
well as small, sometimes with terrifying results. The Third Ward 
Political Club of Niagara Falls, New York, which counted several 
prominent mafiosi among its members, led a giant conspiracy to 
divert, redistill, and then export denatured alcohol that it 
acquired legally through a U.S. permit. Something went terribly 
wrong with the batch smuggled into Ontario in the early summer 
of 1926; it was 93 percent highly toxic wood alcohol, and 21 
people died from drinking it. Theirs were not the only deaths. 
Among the other fatalities charged to the club was that of a U.S. 
customs agent at Niagara Falls, who, while starting his car one 
day, detonated a bomb that blew him to bits. 14 

The eastern seaboard received most of its liquor through the 
"rum rows" off the coast. Foreign vessels would load up with 
liquor in the West Indies and then sail north to anchor just 
outside the United States' three mile limit. Small, fast boats 
would dart out of bays and inlets to these mother ships, take on 
a few cases of liquor, and then run it ashore at some secluded, 
unpatrolled spot. While rum rows of various sizes paralleled 
several hundred miles of coastline, the earliest and perhaps most 
famous was the one off New Jersey. Certainly it was one of the 

14 The agent's name was Orville Preuster. See Ontario Provincial Police 
Memo, September 20, 1926, Criminal Investigation Department, Record 
Group 23, Series E-93, File 1.9, Archives of Ontario, Canada. The case also 
appears in The United States vs. Joseph Sottile, et al., File 25-53-116, 
Department of Justice, Record Group 60, National Archives, Washington, 


Customs and Alcohol 

most brazen, for local land arrangements among " importers ^ 
politicians, and the Coast Guard officers who stopped suspi- 
cious vessels for customs inspections guaranteed a lot of looking 
the other way. Small boats regularly unloaded their wares at 
public piers in Atlantic City; in fact, the "King of the Bootleg- 
gers" there, one Johnny Campbell, felt secure enough to arrange 
smuggling up and down the Jersey coast, and even to bring 
booze in coal ships directly to his headquarters in Philadelphia. 15 

A special Treasury agent stationed at Philadelphia described the 
basic method of rum-running in a report to the Department of 
State. Boats registered in the Philadelphia district (although some 
of them changed their home ports or flags once at sea) were used to 
carry liquor from the West Indies to Florida and the Atlantic coast. 
Usually these boats cleared in ballast from some southern port. In 
Nassau they loaded up with 1,000 to 1,500 cases of liquor. The 
comptroller of customs at Nassau could then clear the boat for 
Canada. The captain carried two manifests, and could show the 
appropriate one should he be hailed by an American cutter: If 
stopped en route to Rum Row, he would produce the one for 
Canadian alcohol; after discharging his cargo, he would show the 
one for ballast. Everything would seem to be in order. 

The agent noted that the greatest advantage to using small 
boats to move the cargo ashore was that if they were stopped, 
they could always swear they were out fishing. Before long, 
however, Caribbean consulates were regularly alerting the State 
Department (and they, in turn, Customs) of any suspicious 
clearances from their ports. 16 

15 Box 7378, Department of State General Records, Record Group 59, 
811.114/BWI/9 (1910-1929); and Mark H. Haller, "Philadelphia Bootleg- 
ging and the Report of the Special August Grand Jury!' Pennsylvania 
Magazine of History and Biography, CVII, (April 1985), p. 220. 

16 Department of State General Records, Record Group 59, 
811.114/BWI9, 319, 317, 324, National Archives, Washington, D.C. False 
clearances were a popular trick on the West Coast as well. A Seattle police 
lieutenant turned bootlegger smuggled liquor out of Canada on ships cleared 
for Mexico. See Kenneth M. Murchison, "Prohibition and the Fourth 
Amendment: A New Look at Some Old Cases," Journal of Criminal Law and 
Criminology, vol. 73, no. 2 (1982), p. 485. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

The New Jersey rum row flourished until it was defeated by 
the extension of Customs' jurisdiction from three to 12 miles. 
The extra distance gave the Coast Guard more time to seize the 
small boats and impatient mother ships who strayed too close to 
shore. But like a leaky pipe in a slapstick skit, just as soon as this 
hole was plugged, another sprang open. This time it was South 

Florida was ill-prepared for the quantum leap in smuggling. 
The southernmost customs district was understaffed and under- 
equipped: the office at Palm Beach was a six- by eight-foot 
shack, and Miami officers had to hire and train civilians every 
winter to handle the seasonal tourist crunch. There was no 
customs speedboat until 1924, and no official automobile until 
1926. In many places the only possible enforcement of Prohibi- 
tion was the collection of the $5 per bottle fine on liquor 
confiscated from unhappy tourists. 17 

With such critical weaknesses in both the law and the means 
of enforcement, Customs could do little beyond the ports. The 
occasional raids and speedboat chases more often led to the 
change of the smuggler's drop-off point than to his arrest. There 
were some officers who tried to do more. Agent Bill Harmon, a 
man of legendary cunning and stamina in customs lore, regularly 
visited the West Indies in mufti to photograph the rum boats tied 
up at the docks. When he found them in Florida waters, he 
seized them for failing to enter and clear. 18 

Because these were essentially the same boats moved to 
warmer waters, the modus operandi was the same in Florida as 
elsewhere. Double manifests worked for the more sophisticated 
operators, and a fine burst of speed for the smaller ones. As in 
any maturing industry, a multitude of competing individuals 
soon merged into several larger firms. An efficient corporate 

17 Much information on Florida operations has been compiled by retired 
Deputy Collector Arthur T. Brantley in an unpublished booklet, "Florida 
Customs'' (Miami, January 30, 1965), photocopy in the archives of the U.S. 
Customs Service, Washington, D.C. 

18 Brantley, "Florida Customs;' p. 18. 


Customs and Alcohol 

organization could then take care of suppliers, transport, pay- 
offs, and "insurance"; should an employee be caught, the bosses 
would supply bail and lawyers. They would also make sure there 
was no evidence. One of the most prominent Florida smugglers, 
Big Bill McCoy, invented something he called a burlock — a 
burlap-wrapped, triangular whiskey case holding three rows of 
one, two, and three bottles, which was guaranteed to sink so far 
if jettisoned that it could never be dredged up for court. 19 

Prohibition enforcement was more pedestrian in the larger 
ports. Customs' major tasks there were making sure that the 
wine in the ships' stores remained corked until the vessel cleared 
the 12-mile limit, and checking that no crewmen augmented that 
supply. Very often they did, and sometimes this caused trouble. 
When New York customs officers, acting on Treasury Depart- 
ment orders, put "all the wine on board of foreign steamers now 
lying in New York . . . under seal'' the Italian Embassy com- 
plained to the Department of State. Never mind that they were 
anchored in American waters. Italian crews were entitled by 
contract to a daily wine ration. The French were soon complain- 
ing as well. 20 

Most ship searches proceeded without incident and yielded 
modest caches. A search of the S.S. Oneida on August 13, 1925, 
rewarded Boston customs people with eight bottles of unmani- 
fested liquor; since the total value came to only $4.50, the 
collector asked permission to ignore the matter. In November 
1926, Boston officers going through the Dutch ship S.S. 
Verndyk discovered "seven bottles . . . concealed in the coal 
bunkers, . . . twelve bottles of unmanifested gin were found 
concealed under a bottom drawer in the ship's hospital, and ten 
bottles of unmanifested brandy were found concealed under the 
boilers in the fireroom." The fines on this haul totaled $21 plus 
the seized liquor. Because the captain swore that the offending 

19 Cashman, Prohibition, p. 34. 

20 Documents 204, 207, Decimal File 811.114/49-220 (1910-1929), De- 
partment of State General Records, Record Group 59, National Archives, 
Washington, D.C. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

bottles were the individual ventures of crew members, customs 
did not impound the ship. 21 

Customs officers diligently searched ships on the West Coast 
too. On April 7, 1920, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, 
perhaps in jest, a tale of how Customs was enforcing the new 
law. Having searched a ship called the Curacao for illegal liquor, 
officers prepared to clear its entry into the United States. Part of 
this ship's cargo consisted of 230 parrots and 50 monkeys, all in 
cages in the hold. The captain, reported the Chronicle, had taken 
a liking to one parrot, whom he named Jimmy and taught to 
speak. Jimmy watched the customs officers prepare to certify the 
manifest and suddenly began to squawk: "Let's hide it in the 
cages, in the cages, in the cages!" Interested, the inspectors 
pulled aside a few cages, removed the birds, and found that each 
cage had a false bottom. Officers collected 374 bottles from the 
ship that day. As the manacled skipper was led away, Jimmy 
"poked his head out through the little wooden bars and yelled: 
'Get your tooth pulled!' " 22 

Jimmy was not a typical customs informant. Most citizens, 
like Frank M. Reynolds, chief of police at Nantasket Beach, 
Massachusetts, wanted payment for their trouble. Reynolds, for 
example, wanted federal compensation for five gallons of liquor 
he found in a car. 23 

Because customs enforcement extended to the transportation 
of illegal alcohol as well as its importation and concealment, the 
service frequently seized cars, trucks, and boats in the line of 
duty. The same day the Verndyk met its fate, Boston inspectors 
impounded a truck from Benjamin Merrihew, who had been 

21 Collector W. W. Lufkin to Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, 
September 4, 1925, and November 9, 1926, "Customs, Immigration and 
Navigation Fines and Letters" vols. 23 and 25, Bureau of Customs Papers, 
Record Group 36, Federal Records Center, Waltham, Massachusetts. 

22 San Francisco Chronicle, April 7, 1920. 

"Collector W.W. Lufkin to Frank M. Reynolds, October 10, 1925, 
"Letters re Customs, Immigration and Navigation Fines, 1925," Bureau of 
Customs Records, Record Group 36, National Archives, Waltham, Massa- 


Customs and Alcohol 

caught smuggling liquor off the docks. Depending on the needs 
of the particular customhouse, these vehicles were either pressed 
into service on the side of the law or sold, the profits in many 
cases going into the coffers of the Prohibition Bureau. This was 
the case with the $525.10 the Boston customhouse realized from 
the sale of Giuseppe Pinzo's motorboat New Boston. 2 * 

The Customs Service's responsibility under the National 
Prohibition Act was to stop at the border any alcohol imported 
without a permit or payment of proper duties. Customs was also 
charged with finding and seizing smuggled liquor. In other 
words, the agency was asked to do what it had always done, and 
in 1920 there was no reason to suppose it would not succeed. But 
no one had foreseen the American public's sudden craving for 
forbidden drink, nor the cheerful enthusiasm with which it 
embraced lawbreaking as a means of getting it. Very quickly, 
customs officers understood that in this case they were spitting 
into the wind. 

What Went Wrong 

Keeping America dry would have been a hard enough task for 
Customs to handle by itself. It simply did not have enough 
manpower to protect every inch of the border. The federal 
government exacerbated this situation, however, by mandating 
certain administrative alliances and artificially creating jurisdic- 
tional territories among the several agencies charged with enforc- 
ing the Volstead Act. Thus actions that were intended to 
strengthen enforcement efforts actually weakened them. 

There was already a great deal of overlap in alcohol enforce- 
ment by the time national Prohibition went into effect. Each 
state, county, town, or hamlet could set its own rules about 
drinking within its limits; local laws thus represented local values 

24 Ibid., Collector Lufkin to the Secretary of the Treasury Andrew 
Mellon, November 9, 1926; and Collector Lufkin to Clerk of U.S. District 
Court, Boston, August 12 and 27, 1925. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

and practices. The 18th Amendment passed the buck to the 
federal government, overriding local option and establishing a 
uniform standard across the country. In so doing it forced the 
government to add to its traditional responsibilities for regula- 
tion and taxation the jobs of detection, investigation, and 
apprehension of what had arbitrarily been defined as a criminal 
activity: importing and consuming alcohol. 25 

The National Prohibition Act provided legal ways to import 
undrinkable alcohol. Permits from the State Prohibition Director 
were filed with the customs collector, who then released the alcohol 
from bond and charged the proper duties according to the Tariff of 
1922. Restricted imports all followed this pattern. The act made no 
overt change in the way Customs did its job; the service was still the 
agency to stop and seize illegal imports for the Treasury and other 
branches of the government. The law tacitly restricted the Customs 
Service's authority, however, by naming the Commissioner of 
Internal Revenue to head all enforcement activity for the import 
and domestic alcohol trade. Congress reinforced this perceived 
diminution of respect by cutting Customs' appropriations while 
increasing Prohibition outlays. 26 Not that the Prohibition Unit of 
the IRS got all that much: Its 1920 allotment was just over $2 
million and, for the rest of its run, its income averaged just over $8 
million. Outside estimates of the true cost of enforcing prohibition 
ran from $15 million a year for New York State alone to more than 
$2 billion a year for the Nation. 27 

Underfunding meant low salaries. Prohibition Unit employ- 
ees earned barely more than what the Bureau of Labor figured 
was necessary to support a family of five; by 1930, the best of 
them were bringing home $2,300 a year. Still, they were doing 
better than the 3,000 customs officers who were vainly trying to 
be everywhere at once. The best of these were making $1,680 

25 Millspaugh, Crime Control, pp. 22-23, 31, 54-56. 

26 Laurence F. Schmeckebier, The Customs Service: Its History, Activities, 
and Organization (Baltimore: 1924), pp. 76-77. See also Millspaugh, Crime 
Control, p. 70. 

27 Cashman, Prohibition, p. 46. 


Customs and Alcohol 

(and buying their own uniforms) in 1920, and only $2,100 in 
1930. It is understandable, then, that an officer might consider 
a request to ignore a truckload of clanking bottles, especially if 
the request were sweetened with cash. 28 

The Prohibition Unit's personnel policy also stymied enforce- 
ment efforts. In December 1923, President Coolidge recom- 
mended that the prohibition field force be classified as civil 
service employees. This was in line with an established practice 
of extending civil service guidelines to all new federal organiza- 
tions. Congress ignored custom in this case, however, and 
allowed many politicians to fill prohibition payrolls and fuel 
their machines at the same time. "Three quarters of the twenty 
five hundred dry agents," estimated one critic in 1927, "are 
ward-heelers and sycophants named by politicians. And the 
politicians, whether professionally wet or professionally dry, 
want prohibition because they regard prohibition as they regard 
post-masterships — a reservoir of jobs for henchmen and of 
favors for friends." 29 Officers who had to stop to consider the 
political implication of any arrest they made certainly did not do 
much for equal enforcement of the law. 

Compounding these financial and political restraints were 
jurisdictional ones. None of the enforcing agencies seemed to be 
really sure who was in charge. Coast guardsmen could make 
seizures on the high seas, but once the contraband was in port it 
was under the rule of the Customs Service, and both services 
wanted the credit. The Justice Department also could claim the 
glory, for it prosecuted the cases Customs and the Coast Guard 
presented to it. Federal and local authorities squabbled as well. 
Boston Collector Lufkin complained to Treasury Secretary An- 
drew Mellon in March 1923 about a U.S. District Court decision 
involving the provenance of seized liquor. The court had ruled 
that the state police could keep and dispose of it because they 

28 Ibid., pp. 46-47. 

29 Chester P. Mills, "Dry Rot," Collier's, vol. 80 (September 17, 1927), 
pp. 46-56, quoted in Laurence F. Schmeckebier, The Bureau of Prohibition: 
Its History, Activities, and Organization (Washington, D.C.: 1929), p. 51. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

had impounded it. Lufkin thought Customs should claim the 
contraband, because it was the direct enforcing agent and could 
present a federal case. Such arguments over jurisdiction — when 
both state and national laws are violated, which take prece- 
dence? — were confused, Lufkin pointed out, by the nature of the 
contraband. No one, he noted wryly, would dispute either 
agency's claim to smuggled wool. 30 

In an attempt to create order and efficiency out of chaos, a 
Bureau of Prohibition was created in March 1927. 31 The same 
act established a separate Bureau of Customs with a commis- 
sioner appointed by the Secretary of the Treasury. The reorgani- 
zation clarified Customs' role in prohibition efforts by laying out 
the division of labor. The Coast Guard was to ply the seas and 
make it difficult for rumrunners who had cleared foreign ports to 
deliver their wares. Regular customs officials, well experienced 
with smugglers, were charged with anticipating and intercepting 
illegal shipments of liquor. They, in turn, handed this informa- 
tion and evidence over to the special customs agents, who 
prepared the "well-made and hole-proof cases" which would 
send the smugglers to jail. 32 The new Prohibition Bureau took a 
back seat now. Its agents supported Coast Guard and customs 
work by providing clerks, gathering information about smug- 
gling and commercial bootlegging, and handling those cases the 
special agents deemed too far from the border to be legitimately 
within Customs' jurisdiction. 

Besides providing a hierarchy of action, the reorganization 
was to improve interagency cooperation. Rather than supporting 
maverick agents who would handle all aspects of a case by 

30 Collector Lufkin to Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, March 
20, 1923, "Letters re Customs, Immigration and Navigation Fines, 1923," 
Bureau of Customs Records, Record Group 36, Federal Records Center, 
Waltham, Massachusetts. 

31 This was the fourth attempt to organize the administration of the act 
efficiently. The efforts of 1921, 1925, and 1926 had proved unworkable; the 
1927 plan was to be revamped again in 1930. The saga of the Prohibition 
Bureau is laid out in Charles Merz, The Dry Decade (Seattle: 1930). 

32 Schmeckebier, Prohibition, p. 33. 


Customs and Alcohol 

themselves, the government encouraged collaboration. The 
Coast Guard officer who stopped the spirited schooner was to 
notify the nearest customs station immediately. Customs was to 
have its agent and a U.S. attorney on hand when the ship docked, 
both to receive the contraband and to search for evidence. The 
system was to leave no room for "jealousy or rivalry." "There 
will be credit enough" for all concerned "if they succeed in 
breaking up the organized smuggling rings." 33 

Straightening things out on paper did not make the Customs 
job any easier. In just one year, guards at Ogdensburg, New 
York, seized 500 cars and stopped 34 railroad cars, each carrying 
200 barrels of liquor, and still scarcely made a dent in the 
bootlegging traffic. El Paso Collector Adrian Pool described his 
territory as a 155-mile battlefront, every mile of which had at 
least "100 good ambushes for smugglers to hide and wait to kill 
our patrolmen." Groups of 10 to 15 liquor-bearing Mexicans 
crossed the Rio Grande near Cordova Island and El Paso, 
primarily because a large Mexican population there offered them 
shelter and anonymity. They also came armed with far more 
machine guns, shotguns, and rifles than had the two or four 
customs patrols guarding that strip of border. 34 

Hostile terrain was not the only factor at work against the 
customs officers in El Paso. They covered the 869-mile Texas border 
with only 50 men and 25 cars. Most of those cars had been 
impounded by the government under the provisions of the National 
Prohibition Act and released for enforcement duty. The trouble was 
that these were cars the bootleggers wanted to get rid of. According 
to Collector Pool, bootleggers bought the good cars the Immigra- 
tion Service auctioned off and ran them into the ground. At that 
point, "they put a can of alcohol in them, which costs about 50 
cents a gallon, and see to it that the car is placed somewhere so that 

33 Ibid., p. 30. 

34 U.S. Treasury Department, Bureau of Customs, "Proceedings of the 
Collectors of Customs Held in Washington, D.C., January 23-24, and 26, 
1934" unpublished transcription in the archives of the U.S. Customs Service, 
Washington, D.C., pp. 18, 65-66, and passim. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

a Customs Patrolman has to seize it, the bootlegger knowing that 
the Customs Officers cannot get any other cars than those they 
seize and will have to use this obsolete catch that they have 
abandoned." The Providence, Rhode Island, collector also had car 
trouble. His car "travels on the road just as a dog runs — sideways 
— the rear end entirely out of line with the front end, and liable to 
be ditched at any moment." 35 

The government offered little relief for the Customs' man- 
power and equipment shortages. Although appropriations to the 
Prohibition Bureau increased almost every year (the amounts 
went from $2,200,000 in 1920 to $12,401,620 in 1929), the 
increases did not keep pace with the geometrical increase in 
violations of the law. Prohibition agents seized about 6 million 
gallons of liquor during their first full year of operations; that 
figure increased to over 30 million gallons in 1929. 36 Congress 
simply would not release the funds to provide enough help for an 
overstretched Bureau of Customs, even denying the bureau the 
vehicles that could at least be trusted to chase the bootleggers. 

Customs was not the only part of the department to feel the 
pinch. The Coast Guard was particularly burdened. Although the 
Coast Guard had gained its independence from the Customs 
Service in 1915, it found that concentration on antismuggling duty 
took too much time from its safety and lifesaving missions. Its 
boats had to cruise and patrol for smugglers both offshore and in 
the coastal waters that the few customs boats could not cover. 37 
Unable to keep up with the work, the Coast Guard requested more 
men and boats from the Secretary of the Treasury, graduated classes 
from its brand new academy early, and encouraged one year 
enlistments to fill crews. For all this effort, however, the public 
blamed the Coast Guard for failing to do more. 38 

35 Ibid., pp. 65, 45. 

36 Merz, The Dry Decade, pp. 329-31. 

37 DarreIl Hevenor Smith and Fred Wilbur Powell, The Coast Guard: Its 
History, Activities and Organization (Washington, D.C.: 1929), p. 52. 

38 For an overview of Coast Guard participation in Prohibition, see 
Howard V.L. Bloomfield, The Compact History of the United States Coast 
Guard (New York: 1961), especially pp. 146-47. The Coast Guard Records at 


Customs and Alcohol 

Enforcement was also frustrated by federal agencies outside the 
Prohibition Bureau's umbrella. The State Department was another 
actor in this comedy, for it negotiated reciprocal nonimportation 
treaties with nations that saw little to be gained, and much money 
to be lost, in helping Americans enforce their laws. 39 The 1924 
treaty with Great Britain (whose postwar economy was bolstered by 
profits from the underground American liquor market) stipulated 
that the United States could search and seize suspected British 
rumrunners at a "reasonable distance" from shore; Britain, mean- 
while, was assured of the sanctity of the three mile limit and 
received renewed permission to carry sealed alcoholic stores on 
passenger ships for use beyond that point. 40 

Phrases like "reasonable distance" soon raised a crop of prob- 
lems. While U.S. officials were authorized to board vessels only 
within U.S. jurisdiction, the Treasury Department told its customs 
officers that they could seize boats beyond that limit when there was 
evidence of communication with the shore, or if the ship suddenly 
put out to sea as if to escape detection. Occasionally, the United 
States was accused of exceeding its territorial limit. In 1928 Britain 
protested that U.S. cutters were anchoring in Bahamian waters 
without notifying proper authorities. 41 

Customs agents relied not only on foreign cooperation, but on 
the cooperation of American diplomats as well. Consuls in ports 
involved in this new triangle trade among the West Indies, Canada, 
and the United States were supposed to notify the State Department 

the National Archives are another rich source of information on interagency 

39 Many countries reaped huge profits from liquor smuggling and applied 
them to public projects. See Lawrence Spinelli, "Dry Diplomacy: The United 
States, Great Britain and Prohibition;' Ph.D. dissertation, New York Univer- 
sity, 1982, p. 6; and Cashman, Prohibition, p. 33. 

40 For summaries of the various treaties, see Robert L. Jones, The 
Eighteenth Amendment and Our Foreign Relations (New York: 1933), p. 231 
and passim. A 1922 regulation had prohibited the transportation of all liquor, 
whether under seal or not. 

41 Jones, Eighteenth Amendment, p. 54. For a full discussion of the 
difficulties with Great Britain over smuggling from the British West Indies, 
see Spinelli, "Dry Diplomacy." 


The U.S. Customs Service 

whenever a suspicious cargo cleared local customs. The State 
Department then alerted Customs and the Coast Guard. For 
example, the American Consul at Georgetown, British Guiana, 
wired the State Department on April 17, 1926, that the "Schooner 
Arthur J. Balfour cleared for St. Pierre Miquelon April 15th with 
11,713 gallons rum, 94 gallons gin." Presumably United States 
cutters could intercept that cargo before it made an unauthorized 
stop off the East Coast of the United States. 

This system had its drawbacks. Treasury Secretary Mellon 
suggested that this information be sent in code, or at least in a 
"locked and numbered pouch" for the mails and telegraph could 
easily be compromised by smugglers much the way many motorists 
listen to police reports on their citizen band radios today. Commu- 
nication between harbor and consul was not always smooth either. 
Foreign customs officers often failed to report pertinent clearances 
through oversight, indifference, "intervening holidays and the fact 
that they sometimes telephoned to the Consul and found his office 
closed at the end of the day." 42 

Centralization of authority, a clear division of labor, interna- 
tional treaties — nothing worked. Customs still fought a losing 
battle. In October 1930, the Prohibition Bureau estimated that 
Americans had consumed more than seven gallons of alcohol per 
capita that year, 876,320,718 gallons in all. More than five hundred 
million of those gallons had been smuggled into the country. 43 

The End of the Experiment 

Despite the rising quantity of alcohol seized and destroyed, 
despite the rising number of bootleggers and bureau men killed 

42 Box 7379, Documents 616, 564; Box 7380, Document 982, Department 
of State General Records, Record Group 59, 811.114/BWI (1910-1929), 
National Archives, Washington, D.C. These State Department files, vast and 
well organized, should prove of great value to researchers pursuing the 
mechanics of the liquor traffic in the West Indies, as well as in other parts of 
the world. It's all there: tonnage, crews, clearances, and consular telegrams. 

43 Cashman, Prohibition, p. 212. 


Customs and Alcohol 

or wounded, despite the rising number of speakeasies and 
smugglers, Prohibition endured through the 1920's. President 
Hoover upheld it vigorously; during his term, six new prisons 
were built to house nearly double the number of prohibition 
offenders than there had been before he took office. 44 Hoover 
also appointed a Committee on Law Enforcement and Obser- 
vance in May 1929. Under the chairmanship of George W. 
Wickersham, the committee was asked to consider how best to 
enforce the 18th Amendment. Its report succinctly identified the 
real problem with the law. Prohibition marked the first time that 
federal police power had been used to control individual habits 
and behavior. "It was an experiment, the extent and difficulty of 
which was probably not appreciated. The government was 
without organization for or experience in the enforcement of a 
law of this character." 45 

In the end the experiment was abandoned. The 22nd Amend- 
ment erased the years of inadequate enforcement and widespread 
civil disobedience. Alcohol ceased to be an issue, a crusade, and 
returned to being a commodity that could be taxed and regulated 
in proven ways. Not that smuggling stopped with repeal. Al- 
though national Prohibition ended, many states remained dry, 
and Customs had to make sure that no liquor went to them. 
And, as the collector from Duluth pointed out, "just as long as 
good foreign liquor smuggled into the United States is so much 
better than the rectified spirits made in this country, and cheaper 
than imported liquor with such a high rate of duty and Internal 
Revenue tax, we will have this problem of bootlegging and 
smuggling to deal with." 46 

Prohibition was about a lot more than booze. It was about 

44 Ibid. 

45 National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, Report on 
the Enforcement of the Prohibition Laws of the United States (Washington 
D.C.: 1931), p. 20. 

46 U.S. Treasury Department, Bureau of Customs, "Proceedings of the 
Collectors of Customs Held in Washington, D.C., January 23-24, 1934," 
unpublished transcript in the Archives of the U.S. Customs Service, Wash- 
ington D.C., p. 26. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

the difficulty of enforcing a moral code for a diverse and hostile 
population. It was also about making foreign policy out of 
foreign trade; it was about governmental autonomy and cooper- 
ation; and it was about the need for writing good, clear laws and 
then providing strong support for their enforcement. Customs, 
unfortunately, learned the object lessons of Prohibition the hard 
way. In carrying out its mission to protect the revenue, it found 
itself protecting a largely unwilling nation from demon rum with 
only a blunt sword and a broken-down horse. Impossible 
legislation and inadequate support from Congress and other 
departments locked customs officials into a losing fight. 

The war on alcohol ended in a truce. But 20th-century 
America is waging other wars now, other crusades for high moral 
standards. Calls for action against pornography and drugs are 
cast in the same tone as that used against Prohibition. And as 
before, Customs is being asked to protect our borders and our 
citizens from two commodities that are symbols of destruction. 


Chapter IX 

Say "customs officer" to almost anyone on the street in the 
1980's and you're likely to get one of two responses. The first is 
a description of the deadpan officer at the airport who watches 
weary travelers claim their baggage after an international flight 
and then, like some ancient god, dispassionately and arbitrarily 
chooses who shall pass and who shall open his or her suitcase. 
The second is the image of the tanned and windblown agent 
cruising the South Florida waters in a speedboat, sunglassed eyes 
searching for fishing boats returning from a day's work with 
nary a minnow aboard. 

The popular perception of the Customs Service as a sort of 
national police force, ever on the lookout for transgressors 
against our revenue and moral codes, is a fairly accurate one. Its 
work in the Prohibition and pornography crusades shows that. 
Its commitment to the war on drug abuse, the bete noire of the 
late 20th century, continues that tradition. In so doing, Customs 
remains part of America's fears, hopes, and confusions about 
who we are and what kind of nation we want to be. It also enters 
the long-standing debate over the proper limits of government's 
role and power in shaping national life. The story of Customs 
and drug interdiction and thus echoes recurring themes and 
variations in its own and the nation's history. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

From Purity to Prohibition: Drug Control in the 
19th Century 

Drug abuse is not a new problem; drug addiction, in fact, was 
an accepted part of 19th-century life. No eyebrows were raised 
when William Blair published An Opium Eater in America in 1825, 
for opiates were widely available in nostrums and patent medicines. 
With the perfection of the hypodermic needle in 1856, morphine 
became the nation's most popular analgesic; Victorian Americans 
who whispered about the "army disease" meant the morphia 
addiction of soldiers who had been treated in Civil War hospitals. 
Nor was addiction strictly a male prerogative. Approximately 60 
percent of addicts by the turn of the century were middle-class 
women who relied on unlabeled medicinal compounds to ease the 
physical and mental aches and pains of their lives. And through 
these women and their dispensing of opiated syrups, thousands of 
babies and children became drug-dependent, too. 1 All in all, some 
scholars have reckoned that at least three percent of the general 
population was addicted to morphine by 1900, and that drug 
addiction on the whole was more widespread in the latter half of the 
19th century than it is today. 2 

For all its prevalence, addiction was perceived not as a 
problem but as a reasonable and respectable result of a partic- 
ular physiological complaint. Drugs, therefore, were not consid- 
ered immoral substances to be kept out of citizens' reach, but 
commodities to be regulated and taxed. Those that were imported 
— primarily opium and cocaine — came under the proper purview 
of the federal government. 

Customs officers were first authorized to enforce a federal 
drug law in 1848. Less than two weeks after Congress passed "An 
Act to prevent the importation of adulterated and spurious drugs 
and medicines" on June 26 of that year, Treasury Secretary 

1 Jerald W. Cloyd, Drugs and Information Control: The Role of Men and 
Manipulation in the Control of Drug Trafficking (Westport, Conn.: 1982), p. 22. 

2 Troy Duster, The Legislation of Morality: Law, Drugs, and Moral 
Judgement (New York: 1970), pp. 7-8. 


The War on Drugs 

Robert Walker was instructing the "Collectors and other officers 
of the Customs" to inspect all imported medicines to make sure 
that the name of the manufacturer and the country of origin 
were clearly displayed on each parcel. They also had to test the 
drugs' conformity to the strength and purity standards estab- 
lished by "United States, Edinburgh, London, French, and 
German pharmacoepia and dispensatories." Those that did not 
conform were destroyed. Collectors at New York, Boston, Phil- 
adelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, and New Orleans could hire 
special examiners or "analytical chemists," at salaries ranging 
from $1 ,000 to $1 ,600 a year, to take care of drugs at their ports. 
Ideally, this examiner would come from the existing ranks of 
customs personnel, for the budget-minded Secretary also de- 
creed that any new appointment be balanced by a staff reduc- 
tion. Ports not specifically mentioned in the circular were to be 
served by "some reasonable person" the collector deemed knowl- 
edgeable enough to do the testing. Thus William B. Pike, the 
collector at Salem, Massachusetts, could engage local apothe- 
cary G. H. Pinkham to test the drugs and medicines arriving 
there, as well as to examine, value, and clear such exotic stuffs as 
gum myrrh and senna leaves. 3 

If white, middle-class Americans had been the only ones 
taking drugs, it is unlikely that drug regulation would have 
moved beyond weights and measures. But middle-class Ameri- 
cans were not alone in seeking relief through chemicals; ever 
more visible immigrants and minorities were using them, too. 
The same fears and suspicions that led to the crusade against 
alcohol inevitably led some Americans to reconsider their atti- 
tudes about drugs too. 

Opium slipped into the United States with the Chinese who 
mined the gold fields of California. Collectors did not at first 

3 Treasury Department Circular, July 8, 1848, Archives of the U.S. 
Customs Service, Washington, D.C.; G.H. Pinkham to William B. Pike, 
February 27 and March 14, 1861, 1861 File, Salem Custom House Papers, 
Essex Institute Historical Collections, Salem, Massachusetts; Salem Direc- 
tory, 1866 . . . A Business Directory, (Salem, Mass.: 1866), p. 133. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

know how to classify or charge duty on opium. An 1858 
Treasury Department circular informed collectors that an opium 
preparation imported from China and "used exclusively for 
smoking by the Chinese population of California" was not a 
drug as defined by the 1848 act and therefore "must be regarded 
as an ordinary article of commerce . . . liable, as such, to duty 
at the rate of 15 per cent." 4 This view changed as the Chinese 
population rose and white Californians began to complain about 
these odd people who wore strange clothes, spoke an unintelli- 
gible language, ate peculiar food, and lived together in bachelor 
ghettoes where they indulged in recreations most Americans 
considered neither wholesome nor family-centered: Gambling, 
prostitutes, and drugs were the common escapes for these lonely 

The opium dens, with smoky rooms where one could for 
little money buy a pipeful of the drug that could help one forget 
the pain of the real world for hours, became sensational symbols 
of the presumed decadence of this minority. For the Americans 
who viewed the Chinese as competitors for jobs, the "yellow 
peril" was a fearsome tangle of economic and racial confusions 
that was most easily expressed as a fear of drugs. Antinarcotics 
legislation was thus a way of controlling a threat to the social 
order. Opium the commodity became opium the vice. 

The first steps to combat opium were local. San Francisco 
passed a penal antidrug law in 1875; Virginia City, Nevada, 
followed in 1876; and the trend continued eastward. Those states 
that controlled drugs soon found that just as much dope was 
smuggled in from nonregulated states as had been present 
before. Besides calling on their neighbors for help, they began 
pressuring the federal government to do something about 
opium. 5 

While not forbidding it altogether, Washington began to keep 

4 Treasury Department Circular, April 24, 1858, Decisions Under Tariff of 
1857 from July 1, 1857, to July 1, 1858, Archives of the US. Customs 
Service, Washington, D.C. 

5 Cloyd, Drugs and Information Control, pp. 34-35. 


The War on Drugs 

a tighter watch on opium imports. 6 After 1881 only American 
citizens could bring it into the country at all. In a treaty with 
China dated October 5, 1881, the United States and China 
agreed to stop all opium traffic. Chinese subjects could not 
import opium into any American port, and Americans could no 
longer import into, transport between, or even buy or sell opium 
in any of China's open ports, something they had done, legally 
or not, since the early days of the China trade. In his directions 
to customs officers about the enforcement of this treaty, Trea- 
sury Secretary Charles J. Folger urged collectors and other 
employees to "take pains to bring ... to the attention of 
Chinese subjects who have heretofore been in the habit of 
importing the article into the United States" that any opium they 
bring in "will be seized and forfeited," and that they willl be 
liable to a $5,000 fine, a two-year jail term, or both. 7 

The treaty did not stop Americans from importing smoking 
opium into their home ports, or even from manufacturing it 
there, and customs officers of the late 1880's kept busy checking 
the packages of drugs for the proper duty stamps. But even 
allowing this limited trade did not stop smuggling. In 1885, 
collectors were instructed to brush the revenue stamps "with 
diluted sulphuric acid, so as to prevent their being reused for 
either increasing the value of opium of American manufacture 
or protecting smuggled opium." The Treasury Department 
discontinued the stamps briefly in 1889 when it realized that they 
"afford little or no protection to the interests of the Revenue, but 
furnish opportunity to smugglers and others to defraud said 
Revenue," but the Department reinstated them the next year. 8 

6 Treasury Department Circular 25, February 15, 1876, Illegal Importa- 
tion of Opium, Archives of the U.S. Customs Service, Washington, D.C. 

7 Arnold H. Taylor, American Diplomacy and the Narcotics Traffic, 
1900-1939 (Durham, N.C.: 1969), p. 10; Treasury Department Circular 42, 
April 10, 1882, Opium Importations by Chinese Subjects, Archives of the 
U.S. Customs Service, Washington, D.C. 

8 Treasury Department Circular 139, September 19, 1885, Decisions in 
Customs Cases; 19, February 25, 1889, Opium Stamps; 110, October 29, 
1890, Stamping of Imported Prepared Smoking Opium; 156, October 15, 
1894, Archives of the U.S. Customs Service, Washington, D.C. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Although lawmakers claimed to be saving the general public 
from the scourge of drugs, the trade laws were really an attempt 
to save the public from the pollution of other peoples. Restrict- 
ing Chinese immigration had taken care of demographic threats 
to the nation. Restricting access to a substance that was an 
essential part of Chinese culture let that alien population know 
in no uncertain terms who was in charge here. The parallels 
between this policy and the temperance crusade to separate the 
Irish from their whiskey, or even the Army's measures to stop the 
Apaches from brewing their sacramental beer, are obvious. 

Whatever their psychological benefit, the laws made little 
dent in the drug traffic. Despite restrictive measures, opium 
consumption rose from 12 to more than 52 grams per person per 
year between 1840 and 1900. 9 Some smugglers responded to this 
increased demand by calling on the help of fellow conspirators. 
In one such scheme, Kwong Fong Tai and Company, Chinese 
merchants in San Francisco, imported between $200,000 and 
$400,000 worth of opium every 60 days with the help of 
intermediaries. Kwong Fong Tai's supplier, Rozario & Company 
of Macao, consigned the shipments to the Bank of British 
Columbia; one of the bank's clerks, H.R. Davidson, then 
entered the opium at the San Francisco customhouse. Once 
Kwong Fong Tai had paid Rozario through friendly customs 
brokers, Davidson withdrew the opium from the government 
warehouse, stored it in a private one, and awaited the merchant's 
instructions for its distribution. 10 

Some efforts were more straightforward. Customs Inspector 
P.H. Barrett lost his job in San Francisco because drugs kept 
disappearing off the dock. H.L. Foss, chief clerk of the Oceanic 
Steamship Company, found it relatively easy to open the pack- 

9 Wendy Melillo, "Early Skirmishes in the War on Drugs," Washington 
Post, November 4, 1986. 

10 Correspondence re Opium Seizure at Port of San Francisco, by Special 
Agents H.A. Moore, Leslie Cullom, and Caleb W. West, March 26, 1897, 
"Customs Bureau Special Agents Reports and Correspondence ca. 
1865-1915," Box 14, Numbers 1435/76, Record Group 36, Customs, Na- 
tional Archives, Washington D.C. 


The War on Drugs 

ages on the dock, remove the opium, reseal the boxes, and take 
the contraband away by the simple expedient of getting Inspector 
Barrett blind drunk first. 11 Still other, more alert customs agents 
searching ships tied up at dock found contraband in tins of dry 
paint or tobacco, under floors, in furniture — even stashed in the 
boots or on the persons of passengers and crew. 12 

The Pacific Coast was certainly not the only entry point for 
opium. Canada was a haven for smugglers in the 1890's. Drugs 
and Chinese laborers were both sneaked over the Vermont line 
regularly. 13 The collector at Pembina, North Dakota, was fre- 
quently tipped off about "certain Chinese persons" who were 
about to try to enter the United States. He also often warned the 
directors of North Dakota's subports to be on the lookout for 
opium coming in from British Columbia, perhaps packed and 
labeled as "St. Jacob's Oil," perhaps stowed in the gear of 
"parties traveling with dogs and guns, apparently hunters." 14 

Opium smuggling by the Chinese remained a customs preoc- 

11 The case of the intemperate inspector may be found in the "Letters to 
the Collector from the Secretary of the Treasury, Re: Personnel, 1891-1916," 
Port of San Francisco Administrative Records, 1857-1947, Record Group 36, 
U.S. Bureau of Customs, National Archives Federal Records Center, San 
Bruno, California. See in particular the following documents in Box 1, Series 
13 (1896-1898): Acting Treasury Secretary to San Francisco Collector John 
Wise, June 28, 1895; Special Agent A.H. Moore to Wise, May 20, 1895; 
Affidavits sworn by Charles W. Ohlsen, William Daley, and A.C. Van Pelt, 
May 13, 1895. 

12 Table Showing Seizures of Smoking Opium and Other Narcotics by 
Officers of the United States Customs Service at the Port of San Francisco, 
1901-1931, Box 1, Series 9, Item 9, Records Relating to the Movement and 
Control of Imports, Exports, and Other Cargo, U.S. Bureau of Customs, 
Port of San Francisco, Record Group 36, Customs, National Archives Federal 
Records Center, San Bruno, California. 

13 William T. Bissell to Secretary of the Treasury John G. Carlisle, 
October 18, 1894, box 2: 1892-1894, 1894-1897, "Letters Received from the 
Post Office Department, 1820-1901," Entry 150, Record Group 56, Treasury 
Department, National Archives, Washington, D.C. 

14 Robert Morrison to Charles R. Lyman, October 7, 1891; R. Edwards to 
Deputy Collector of Customs, St. John, North Dakota, June 13, 1890; N.E. 
Nelson to Charles R. Lyman, September 12, 1892; Robert Morrison to 
Charles R. Lyman, December 22, 1891; N.E. Nelson to Charles R. Lyman, 
September 9, 1892, Archives of the U.S. Customs Service, Pembina, North 
Dakota, District Office. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

cupation well into the 20th century. In January 1911, customs 
surveyors and inspectors at the Port of New York raided two 
tea-importing companies on Manhattan's West Side. One of 
these establishments was a heavily guarded confectionary shop 
whose occupants did not surrender themselves or their dope 
without a fight. The other, and larger, firm openly sold much 
more than lapsang souchong to its well-dressed white customers. 
Customs agents were able to enter the shop unnoticed, gather 
their evidence, and make their arrests without raising a ruckus. 
This place turned out to be the headquarters of a large syndicate 
run by an "Americanized" Chinese calling himself Charlie 
Boston. Boston, who was captured by U.S. marshals a week after 
the raid, kept extensive files of his importing business, including 
a healthy mailing list and several letters of thanks for gifts 
received from police chiefs around the Nation. A New York 
police officer noted sadly that Boston was proof that the time 
had come "when we could no longer safely leave them [immi- 
grant Chinese] to themselves, assured that they would keep to 
themselves." 15 

By linking opium use with a new and mistrusted population, 
the public gave drug use a social component and pushed the 
Government from revenue collection to moral protection. In- 
stead of being something to regulate, opium became something 
to eradicate. But this first battle showed Washington that the war 
on drugs would not be easily won. Every legal action was met 
with a greater illegal reaction. Unable to stop the growth of 
opium use, the government clamped down harder. The McKinley 
Tariff of 1890 slapped a tax on all opium manufactured domes- 
tically and asked the Internal Revenue Service to collect it. The 
tariff also asked Customs to collect the revived import taxes on 
opium and morphine, thereby starting a turf war between the 
two agencies. When taxation did not solve the problem, Con- 
gress tried all-out prohibition, banning the importation of all 

15 Customs Men Raid Two Opium Shops," New York Times, January 26, 
1911; "Hold Chinaman As Head of Opium Ring," New York Times, January 
31, 1911. 


The War on Drugs 

opium and its derivatives (save for medicinal purposes) in 
February 1909. 16 

Changing Times: Enforcement in the Progressive Era 

Opium may have been the first drug to prompt federal 
reaction, but it certainly was not the only one. Cocaine and 
marijuana also have been linked with highly visible subpopula- 
tions and branded public enemies. 

Cocaine first came on the American market in 1885, and it 
was very popular by the turn of the century. Physicians who were 
alarmed at the growing ranks of morphine addicts among their 
patients and colleagues at first promoted cocaine as a cure for 
that problem, then prescribed it as a palliative for sinus head- 
aches, hay fever, and almost everything else from toothache to 
chronic depression. Cocaine was an instant hit among the middle 
class because the energy and vitality it gave the user increased 
productivity on the job. Its use sanctioned by no less an 
authority than Sigmund Freud (an addict himself), who declared 
that strong-willed individuals could benefit from it. Cocaine also 
found its way into untold households in soft-drink bottles. 
Coca-Cola was indeed the real thing during the Gay Nineties, as 
were its rivals Kos-Kola, Koca-Nola, Cafe-Cola Compound, 
Celery Cola, Dr. Don's Cola, Vani-Kola Compound Syrup, 
Rococola, and Wiseola. 17 

Popular beverages and patent medicines made cocaine easily 
available to non whites as well. Blacks too poor to buy medical 
care often used these products as pain-killers. Although statistics 
show that addiction among blacks was less than among any 

16 Virginia Doherty Hill, The History of the United States Customs 
Service as the Parent of Other Federal Agencies (Germantown, Md.: 1985), p. 
93, Archives of the U.S. Customs Service, Washington, D.C. 

17 When the federal government legislated cocaine out of these beverages, 
their manufacturers started putting in caffeine instead. See Melillo, "Early 
Skirmishes in the War on Drugs," Washington Post, November 4, 1986 and 
Cloyd, Drugs and Information Control, pp. 25-26. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

other ethnic group, the blacks' low economic status left their 
even occasional cocaine use vulnerable to negative moral inter- 
pretations, especially in a South already trying desperately to 
preserve and protect itself with Jim Crow laws. This mythical 
image justified increased vigilance in Dixie; police and newspa- 
pers helped spread fear of the destructive powers of blacks and 
cocaine in many Yankee cities as well. 18 

Applause turned to apprehension for marijuana, too. Unlike 
opium and cocaine, which were shared by many segments of 
society, marijuana was at first the almost exclusive province of 
Mexicans and Mexican- Americans in the Southwest. Whites 
from Louisiana to California blamed marijuana for the vagrancy 
and immorality they saw in their dark-skinned, Spanish- 
speaking neighbors. Despite some medical claims that marijuana 
was the new wonder drug that would ease the pain of withdrawal 
from other narcotics, it remained firmly linked to lower class 
Hispanic minorities and was therefore something to be 
controlled. 19 

The Americans who cheered William Jennings Bryan looked 
around and saw colonies of Chinese laborers stretched out by 
their pipes in shadowy, smoky, opium dens; saw Mexican 
laborers carrying cigarettes made from a weed not grown in 
North Carolina filling Western towns and ranches; saw blacks 
drinking Coca-Cola on shanty porches throughout the South. 
And they were scared. The typical drug user was no longer the 
nice lady next door but the stranger in their midst, particularly, 
it seemed, the poor young male stranger who lusted angrily after 
the power and position of his betters. 20 

While experts published lengthy articles alerting the nation to 

18 Cloyd, Drugs and Information Control, pp. 31, 35-37; David F. Musto, 
The American Disease: Origins of Narcotic Control (New Haven: 1973), p. 7. 
Nor were blacks the only villains. An anonymous expert writing in the New 
York Times, for example, pointed out that black field hands got their coke 
from "every Jew peddler in the South." See "The Growing Menace of the Use 
of Cocaine," New York Times, August 2, 1908. 

19 Cloyd, Drugs and Information Control, pp. 29, 37-40. 

20 Ibid., p. 31; Duster, The Legislation of Morality, p. 11. 


The War on Drugs 

the narcotic menace, the change in attitude was best expressed by 
a character called "The Dope Fiend" who first appeared in the 
pages of the New York Sun in 1896. Turned into a brutish beast 
by drugs that sapped his moral strength, the Dope Fiend gave a 
face to larger, ill-defined social tensions, and quickly became a 
convenient symbol. Thanks to him, all drug users became dope 
addicts. Drug use became drug abuse. By the time the guns of 
August boomed across Belgium, the American public was 
demanding action. A California schoolteacher asked Secretary 
of State William J. Bryan to stop the drug traffic because "at all 
times there are in our County jails, almost one hundred young 
boys of High School age hopeless wrecks from the use of drugs." 
That same year a New York lawyer representing Mrs. William K. 
Vanderbilt sent President Wilson resolutions from prominent 
judges and hospitals with the ominous warning that "The Evil 
has come to be a National Menace." 21 

Changing attitudes meant changing legislation. Between 
1887 and 1908 many states passed laws curbing drug distribu- 
tion, but it was not until December 1914, that Congress passed 
its first comprehensive narcotics legislation. The Harrison Nar- 
cotic Act limited the possession, processing, and sale of opium 
and cocaine. This law brought the federal government — specifi- 
cally the Treasury Department — into drug enforcement by re- 
quiring all drug producers and distributors to register with the 
government and to record and pay a tax on all domestic drug 
transactions. 22 

Customs' main jobs during these years of readjustment were 

21 Alma Dufour to William J. Bryan, May 11, 1914; and Ernest K. 
Coulter to Woodrow Wilson, October 8, 1914, Decimal File 811.114/51, 58, 
Traffic in Liquor and Dangerous Drugs (1910-1929), Record Group 59, 
Department of State, National Archives, Washington D.C. 

22 Cloy d, Drugs and Information Control, p. 55; Duster, Legislation of 
Morality, pp. 14-15; Laurence F. Schmeckebier, The Customs Service: Its 
History, Activities, and Organization (Baltimore: 1924), p. 76. The Harrison 
Act also made it illegal to buy drugs without a prescription. This in turn 
created a healthy black market, one that, judging by the number of drug 
stories appearing in the New York Times, grew geometrically after 1914. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

collecting duties on drug imports, checking on the legality of 
drug exports, and keeping after the smuggling which continued 
unabated on both coasts. 23 San Francisco officers arrested one 
Wong Fu (known as the "Babe Ruth of the Flowery Republic") 
in December 1920 as he disembarked from the Venezuela 
carrying a false passport and $7,500 worth of opium sewn into 
his clothing. A month later, inspectors found another $80,000 
worth of the drug in 400 tins hidden in the hollow wall of 
another vessel. Customs crews in Boston searching the "Chinese 
quarters in the after part of the ship" found " 1 box Persian gum 
opium; 1 jar, 1 tin, and 4 tares of smoking opium; 2 cans yen shi; 
3 small packages crude opium; 3 cans opium solution; 4 opium 
pipes; 2 scales; [and] 1 box containing lamps and layout." 24 
And in 1925 Customs cracked a multinational operation that 
shipped contraband in whatever merchandise was handy along a 
route that stretched from Basel to Antwerp to Cuba or China, 
and finally to the United States. 25 

Smuggling was not, of course, an exclusively Chinese enter- 
prise. Vittorio Sorrentino smuggled cocaine into New York in 
barrels of olive oil until a curious customs gauger discovered the 
cans with his probe. European cocaine crossed the border at 
Rouses Point, New York, along with bootleg liquor. Hawaiian 
smugglers followed ocean liners into port, hoping to pick up 
packages of opium that crew members had dropped overboard; 
the collector at Honolulu got permission to mount guns on the 
big ships in order to shoot at the scavengers who fished up nearly 
500 tins a month. And German crews on ships of the North 
German Lloyd line "left their jobs at short notice to visit sick 

"Treasury Department Circular 48, June 21, 1915, Archives of the U.S. 
Customs Service, Washington, D.C. 

24 San Francisco Chronicle, December 6, 1920, and January 5, 1921; 
W.W. Lufkin to Mr. D. Morgan, February 3, 1923, "Letters Re Customs, 
Immigration and Navigation Fines (January 31, 1923-June 7, 1923)," Boston 
Custom House Records, Record Group 36, Customs, National Archives 
Regional Branch, Waltham, Massachusetts. 

25 "Seizures Reveal International Syndicate Ships Drugs in Bedsteads, 
Safes and Watches," New York Times, August 19, 1925. 


The War on Drugs 

relatives" once the customs staff in Hoboken, New Jersey, 
uncovered a smuggling ring that included doctors and druggists, 
as well as deckhands. 26 

At the same time that customs officers were battling the 
cocaine epidemic that accompanied the Volstead Act, the Cus- 
toms Service was facing challenges to its jurisdiction, primarily 
from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS was involved 
because all sales had to be registered, the Customs Service 
because both ports and importers had to be monitored. Coop- 
eration between the two agencies was essential if smuggling were 
to be suppressed, although such cooperation was not always 
forthcoming. 27 For example, in 1921 an Italian ring was broken 
by detectives from the Treasury Department's Narcotics Division 
who were assisting two Internal Revenue Narcotics Squad men. 
One of the IRS agents, acting as a decoy, lured the capo into a 
restaurant on Eighth Avenue in New York City, where waiting 
colleagues arrested him with the goods. The ring had been 
smuggling drugs from Europe into several American cities, yet 
Customs' participation in this sting was conspicuously absent. 
Whose territory was it? 28 

The question grew more and more muddled during the 
Roaring Twenties. In 1922, the Federal Narcotics Control Board, 
consisting of the Secretaries of State, Treasury, and Commerce, 
was created within the Treasury's Narcotics Division to look after 
the provisions of both the Harrison and the Narcotics Drugs 
Import and Export Acts. The latter limited exports to those 
countries with their own drug licensing and control systems. The 

26 "Held As Cocaine Smuggler," ibid., August 3, 1921; "Big Drug Haul 
on Border," ibid., July 11, 1923; "Wants Liner To Mount Gun," ibid., July 
21, 1923; "To Arm Pacific Ships Against Opium Bands," ibid., July 11, 1923; 
"Smugglers' Big Profits," ibid., February 17, 1909; "First Arrest Made In 
Smuggling Plot," ibid., February 14, 1909; "Two More Arrests In Smuggling 
Case," ibid., February 16, 1909. 

27 Musto, American Disease, pp. 67-68, 146, 197; Schmeckebier, Customs 
Service, p. 76; Veronica Doherty Hill, The History of the Customs Service as 
the Parent of Other Federal Agencies (Germantown, Md.: 1985), p. 94. 

28 "Trapped As Chief of Drug Syndicate." New York Times, September 
17, 1921. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

following year the board was transferred to the Narcotics 
Division of the Office of Prohibition in the Internal Revenue 
agency. In 1927, when there were more inmates in federal prisons 
on narcotics charges than there were on prohibition violations, 
Congress created the Bureau of Prohibition within the Treasury 
Department. 29 This legislation too was flawed because it failed to 
grant Customs officers' authority to narcotics agents. All the 
duties and powers that had been granted to the Commissioner of 
Internal Revenue now resided in the Secretary of the Treasury, 
who in turn delegated them to the Commissioner of Prohibition. 
Customs officers now had to report any tips or leads about dope 
smuggling to the special agent for the district. This agent then 
had to decide whether to notify the narcotics agent in charge so 
that the two could collaborate on the case, or to do all the 
legwork alone. Although each agency had its own sources and 
modi operandi, the two were enjoined to share all possible 
assistance, information, and evidence, and to cooperate whole- 
heartedly, with no jealousy or rivalry, in breaking up smuggling 
rings. 30 

This solution to the duplication and confusion of authority 
was no more satisfactory than the others, and so in 1930 
Congress tried again by establishing a Bureau of Narcotics 
within the Treasury Department. This bureau was to administer 
all laws dealing with narcotics, drugs, and marijuana. A Com- 
missioner of Narcotics replaced the Commissioner of Prohibi- 
tion. Although it made logistical sense to locate this new agency 
with its two main enforcing services (Customs and Coast Guard) 
in the Treasury Department, the new office made as much 
trouble as it was intended to save. Customs fought territorial 
wars with the new bureau, mainly because they shared the same 
mission: to control the importation and distribution of illegal 

"Breakers Of Narcotics Laws Outnumber Wet Convicts," ibid., Janu- 
ary 24, 1927. 

30 Laurence F. Schmeckebier, The Bureau of Prohibition: Its History, 
Activities and Organization (Washington, D.C.: 1929), p. 30. 


The War on Drugs 

Having to share its historic powers to enforce drug and 
alcohol restrictions frustrated the Customs Service. So did 
widening the war on drugs to include marijuana. The campaign 
against this weed nearly paralleled that against alcohol. By 1930 
the government had begun endorsing news reports and xenopho- 
bic allegations that proved a causal link between marijuana and 
"insanity, crime, violence, and moral degradation." Marijuana, 
however, was, like alcohol, a social drug; both competed for the 
same dollars, and marijuana control elicited the same sort of 
public cynicism that alcohol control did. The passage of the 
Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which outlawed the transportation 
of that narcotic, meant an additional difficult job for Customs, 
and one it lacked the authority and resources to lick. 31 

Despite claims by the Commissioner of Narcotics that drug 
smuggling decreased during the 1930's, the Customs Service saw 
things otherwise. New York Collector Harry Durning noted that 
the rumrunners were now running dope and that his agents were 
switching gears to foil them. A confidential circular sent to 
customs agents in 1936 warned that "smuggling of narcotic 
drugs had become a more important customs enforcement 
problem than the smuggling of alcoholic liquors." Officers were 
cautioned to be especially careful in searching ships that touched 
Asian ports and to keep an eye open for drugs stashed in cans 
that looked like tobacco tins, in padded clothing and in false 
compartments of steamer trucks. Inspectors needed extraordi- 
nary vigilance to find these small, easily disguised packets of 
poison, and "the Bureau expects vigorous and aggressive action 
on their part in the effort to eradicate narcotic smuggling." 32 

31 Roger C. Smith, "U.S. Marijuana Legislation and the Creation of a 
Social Problem," in David E. Smith, ed., The New Social Drug: Cultural, 
Medical, and Legal Perspectives on Marijuana (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: 
1970), p. 109; Smith, The New Social Drug, p. 1; Douglas Clark Kinder and 
William O. Walker III, "Stable Force in a Storm: Harry J. Anslinger and 
United States Narcotic Foreign Policy, 1930-1962," Journal of American 
History, vol. 72, no. 4 (March 1986), p. 909. 

32 Arthur C. Millspaugh, Crime Control in the National Government 
(Washington, D.C.: 1937), pp. 220-21, 286; "Liquor Smugglers Quit, Turn to 


The U.S. Customs Service 
Regrouping to Win the War on Drugs 

For more than 30 years, Customs and the Federal Bureau of 
Narcotics were the nation's major drug enforcement agencies. 
During those decades drug use rose and fell, certain narcotics 
went in and out of fashion, and new buyers and sellers entered 
the black market. When the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was 
established, drugs had come to be associated with minorities, 
musicians, and other "artistic" types. Near the end of its reign, 
however, the children of the white middle class had evolved their 
own drug culture, and were "tuning in, turning on, and dropping 
out" in ever-increasing numbers. The threat had changed. As 
Pogo observed, "We have met the enemy and it is us." Federal 
policy had to adapt. 

The government had tailored its tactics before. Opium legis- 
lation was overwhelmingly anti-Chinese when the country feared 
immigrant hordes. It focused on stiffer penalties for the mem- 
bers of perceived criminal or Communist conspiracies who 
encouraged a midcentury rise in heroin addiction. And it chose 
stricter enforcement to combat the youthful counterculture that 
was turning its back on traditional, dominant American values 
in the late 1960's. 33 

But first the government had to get its own house in order. 
President Lyndon Johnson's Reorganization Plan of 1965, which 
overhauled the Customs Service by eliminating all Presidential 
and senatorial appointees and collapsing its seven subdivisions 
into four. A 1968 plan tried to end 30 years of squabbling by 
transferring the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from the Treasury 
to the Justice Department, marrying it to the Department of 
Health, Education, and Welfare's Bureau of Drug Abuse, and 
establishing the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs 

Other Rackets," New York Times, February 20, 1934; Bureau of Customs 
Circular 1629, October 9, 1936, Archives of the U.S. Customs Service, 
Washington, D.C. 

33 Cloyd, Drugs and Information Control, pp. 78-79, 72-73, 82-83. 


The War on Drugs 

(BNDD). 34 Now the Customs Service had new competition in 
the field, but the basic question of overlapping missions was not 
addressed. Customs' job was still to protect the nation's revenue 
by assessing and collecting tariffs on goods brought into the 
country, and by seizing smuggled goods, including illegal drugs. 
The BNDD's job was to stop the drug traffic. Because all hard 
drugs originate outside the United States and must be "im- 
ported," all BNDD cases technically start as customs cases. 
Whereas Customs concentrated on border operations (occasion- 
ally pushing the border several miles inland to complete an 
arrest), and the BNDD preferred to follow its leads and work 
undercover, each agency singlemindedly went after the credit and 
resources and Presidential approval that went along with collect- 
ing the greatest number of drug dealers' scalps. 35 

Neither willingly cooperated with the other. Each jealously 
guarded its lists of suspects, tips, and plans. The results of this 
often childish competition were usually highly counterproduc- 
tive. For example, when a drug dealer offered to "finger" some 
really big dealers for the BNDD, that agency graciously invited 
the customs investigators who happened to be looking into the 
case on their own to be present for the event. Customs accepted, 
and on the appointed night its special agents took their agreed- 
upon posts in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The BNDD people 
then decided to catch the targets before they even entered the 
hotel, but somehow they forgot to tell the customs men, who 
vainly waited inside all night. 

In another case, both Customs and BNDD operatives found 
themselves on the same New York street staking out the same 
heroin-laden Citroen. In their eagerness to make the bust, the 
BNDD moved closer to the car. Not wanting to be beaten out, 
Customs edged its surveillance team closer. The BNDD inched 
forward again, and, like cars waiting for a red light to change, so 

34 Kaiser, U.S. Customs Service, pp. 24-27; Hill, History of the U.S. 
Customs Service, p. 97. 

35 Patricia Rachal, Federal Narcotics Enforcement: Reorganization and 
Reform (Boston: 1982), p. 56. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

did the customs team. Whoever was supposed to collect the car 
obviously noticed this peculiar pas de deux and decided to leave 
them to it. Neither Customs nor the BNDD got any credit for 
that operation. 36 

The consolidation that had looked so good on paper had 
proved to be a bitter contest in reality. Interagency hostilities 
raged until 1973, when President Nixon, fed up with bureau- 
cratic rivalry, decided to reorganize federal drug enforcement 
once again. By so doing he hoped to achieve greater efficiency 
and to unite a fractious population against a common enemy — 

From the late 1960's on, Customs, with its augmented 
authority, especially the Bank Secrecy Act, was able to get at the 
heart of enforcement in ways that interdiction alone could not. A 
good example is Customs ability to identify the flow of drug 
dollars into the country, which has led to huge seizures of drugs 
and proceeds from this illegal activity. 

The Reorganization Plan of 1973 scrapped the BNDD and 
built a new superagency, the Drug Enforcement Administration 
(DEA). Although this too was technically located in the Justice 
Department, the DEA was designed to lead the war against the 
illegal drug traffic. The DEA would do this by absorbing the 
personnel and budgets of Customs and the antidrug agencies in 
Justice. It also took responsibility for the development and 
implementation of enforcement strategies to investigate, arrest, 
and prosecute suspects, as well as to conduct drug enforcement 
negotiations with foreign governments. 

The BNDD gave the new agency its personnel and its 
organizational base. Customs turned over its intelligence, inves- 
tigative, and law enforcement responsibilities, along with 509 
agents, a support staff of 200, and an "assortment of equip- 
ment, including aircraft, helicopters, boats, office furniture and 
supplies, vehicles, firearms, tape recorders, radios, cameras, and 

36 Rachal, Federal Narcotics Enforcement, p. 59. 


The War on Drugs 

binoculars." 37 INS was to return to Customs many of the duties 
it had taken upon becoming independent in 1906, and give up as 
many agents as needed to reestablish Customs as the primary 
port-of-entry inspection agency. This last provision drew consid- 
erable fire from the INS and was subsequently repealed by 
Congress. Customs thus gave up much and received nothing in 
return but more work. 38 

The creation of the DEA forced the Customs Service to 
reevaluate itself and its place in federal drug enforcement 
activities. Profoundly threatened by the loss of its own intelli- 
gence data base to the DEA's new system at the El Paso 
Intelligence Center, the Customs Service realized that it would 
have to do some reorganization of its own. 39 Splitting its 
enforcement duties in two, it rejuvenated the old Patrol and 
established the Office of Investigations. The latter looked into 
violations of customs and other laws at home and abroad, often 
taking advantage of its foreign operatives to do so. 40 Customs' 
Patrol concentrated on stopping the smuggling of drugs and 
other contraband through the ports. To catch larger shipments, 
the Customs Service has also increased its surveillance of the 
unguarded border lands between ports by using planes that can 
fly low over those areas, as well as by beefing up its ground 
forces. The internal reorganization quickly paid off in more 
arrests. This result not only allowed Customs to reaffirm its 
traditional role in drug interdiction, but also supported its claim 
to being the DEA's equal in power and efficiency. 41 

Nixon's plan still dictates federal narcotics enforcement 

37 Kaiser, U.S. Customs Service, p. 35. 

38 Ibid., pp. 32-34; Hill, History of Service, pp. 98-99; U.S. Customs 
Service, The History of the Evolution of Customs Through Job Titles 
(Washington, D.C.: 1984), p. 19; Stuart Seidel, memorandum of March 24, 
1989, US. Customs Service Archives, Washington, D.C. 

39 Hill, History of the U.S. Customs Service, p. 107. 

^Rachal, Federal Narcotics Enforcement, p. 62. 

41 Hill, History of the U.S. Customs Service, pp. 101-02; U.S. Customs 
Service, "United States Customs Service Accomplishments, 1982-1986" 
(Washington, D.C: 1986), p. 10, Archives of the U.S. Customs Service, 
Washington, D.C; Rachal, Federal Narcotics Enforcement, pp. 111-16. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

operations. Although later government studies and evaluations 
continued to point out the persistent problems of "overlap, 
duplication of effort, and lack of coordination" at our borders, 
there are signs that this situation may be improving. 42 After more 
than 10 years, the Customs Service and the DEA have come to a 
wary truce that is based primarily on their division of duties. The 
DEA has specialized in the sort of work the BNDD used to do: 
undercover jobs to catch the masterminds behind the major 
smuggling conspiracies. In one of their typical "stings" reminis- 
cent of Prohibition, DEA agents were given money to buy heroin 
from and immediately arrest the head of a Boston ring. 43 
Customs, meanwhile, has concentrated on what it does best, 
straightforward border searches and seizures. Occasionally the 
two work together. In 1982, for example, the DEA was tipped off 
about cocaine that was to be smuggled from Bolivia. The 
smugglers had booked a through flight from South America to 
West Germany, planning to switch the dope-laden luggage in 
New York during the flight's layover when they and their bags 
enjoyed the Customs de facto immunity granted passengers in 
transit. The DEA asked the Customs Service to detain the 
suspects in the transit lounge and to arrange a search of their 
baggage. Customs agents found the cocaine and shared the 
credit with the DEA. 44 

Customs' working relationship with INS, at first nearly 
destroyed by the reorganization plan, is improving too. The two 
cooperate to identify and apprehend suspicious persons at ports 
of entry. INS agents are the first to see incoming passengers and 
can alert customs inspectors to watch the ones who appear 
evasive, inconsistent, or overly nervous during routine question- 
ing; who are very worried about their baggage; whose luggage is 

42 Kaiser, U.S. Customs Service, pp. 43 ff. The two studies, both made in 
1977, were the Office of Drug Abuse Policy Review and the President's 
Reorganization Project Draft Report. 

Michael Hedges, "Drug Agency Rigs 'Buy-Busts' to Destroy Selling 
Operations," Washington Times, November 11, 1986. 

44 U.S. v. Muench, Federal Reporter, Second Series, vol. 694 (St. Paul: 
1983), p. 28. 


Variations in uniforms worn by Customs officers in Buffalo, New York, 1905. 

Customs officers in San Francisco caricature themselves. U.S. Customs and Kindred Services, 
San Francisco, 1915. 

/( r^vfc 


Customs enforces Prohibition, c. 1922. 

#* '( 


mm ' 1 


F / 



Examination Number: 85613 

DIRECTIONS: Writi the examination number, whici i ove,ontht accompanying en 

d also on your pre, i ■ ■ , and on each slieet o) nation. Make no error in tra 

s this number, becaust ! W teniifving the examination sht 

titan this. 
1,1-.. from bottom to top twice, then pla 


7 declare upon my honor that the answers to the following question* are true, to tin 
best of inn knowledge and belief: 

Question 4. 

(tui'stioii a. w 

Examination for mounted inspector. Eagle Pass, Texas, 1900. 


Customs office on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana, 1927. 
Enforcing Prohibition on the Northwest Border, 1930. 

U. 8. CUST 

Customhouse, Fabens, Texas, 1939. 


Aliases: Moses (Moe) Lissj Theodore Liss 

Washington. June 1, 1936 

Nationality ! Amerloan 
Resldenoe : New York City 
Age: 34 years 
Height : 5 feet, 6j inohes 
Weight : 130 pounds 
Hal r; Dark chestnut 
Ejyes : Brown 
C omplexion: Sallow 

In March, 1934, acting upon information that a gang of narootlo traffickers was oper- 
ating from, and maintaining an establishment known as the "Liberty Restaurant" in New York 
City, Narcotic Agents, after an investigation lasting several months, seized a large quanti- 
ty of heroin, oooalne, morphine, smoking opium and opium dross and arrested ten of the 
principals. Tommy COOPER, a notorious narootio trafficker with a long oriminal reoord was 
not apprehended at the time. However, he was pioked up by New York Polioe in May, 1934, on 
a homicide oharge, and following the dismissal of the ca6e against him because of insuf- 
ficient evidence, he was turned over to Narootio Agents for prosecution on the narootio 
oharge. On June 19, 1934, he was sentenoed to 2 years' impris 

From an intelligence book used by Customs officers, 1936. 

Customs testing opium, Seattle, 1940. 

International Arrivals area at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, 1960- 



( Outward/Inward ) 


Owner or Operator 



No APOLLO 11 Date JULY 24, 1969 


i of Health 

Persons on board known to be suffering fiom illness other than airsickness or 
the effects of accidents, as well as those cases of illness disembarked during the 


Any other condition on board which may lead to the spread of disease: 


Details of each disinsecting or sanitary treatment (place, date, time, method) 
during the flight. If no disinsecting has been carried out during the flight give 
details of most recent disinsecting: 

Signed, if required 

Member Conceri 

For official use only 


Honolulu, Hawaii 


Customs Inspector 

I declare that all statements and particulars contained in this General Declaration, and in any supplementary forma 
required to be presented with this General Declaration are complete, exact and true to the best of my knowledge and that 
all through passengers will continue/have continued on the flight. 

Astronauts declare moon samples, Honolulu, 1969. 

Customs and the French 
Connection, 1971. 

U.S. Customs Service patrol 

helicopters in action over the 

Gulf of Mexico, 1974. 

_ * ijjf. ' 

s, J\ ' 

* t * *' % 

P-3 airborne early warning aircraft, 1988. 


Operation Saber broke up a conspiracy responsible 
for smuggling more than 5,000 kilograms of 
cocaine into the country, La Jolla, California, 

Tampa cocaine seizure — Customs found 7,300 
pounds of cocaine stashed inside cedar boards in 
a containerized vessel shipment, 1988. 

Patroling in Kennebunkport, Maine, with the home of President George Bush in the background. 

The War on Drugs 

unusual in any way; or whose passports show evidence of many 
trips abroad in a relatively short time. INS inspectors also check 
passenger names against automated wanted lists. 45 This coordi- 
nated effort caught Herbert Baumann, who flew into Balti- 
more/Washington International Airport on April 17, 1986. The 
INS inspector checking Baumann's passport noticed that he 
"had no visible means of support and was otherwise suspicious," 
and asked Customs to investigate. During a baggage check, 
customs agents found a strange brick that Baumann claimed was 
a paperweight. The paperweight turned out to be 250 grams of 
hashish, and Baumann was arrested. 46 

The INS is also aware of a correlation between drug and alien 
smuggling. A century ago Chinese laborers carried opium across 
the Canadian border. Today Mexican laborers laden with mari- 
juana, heroin, and cocaine are helped over the Rio Grande. In 
fact 90 percent of the people arrested in Santa Ana, California, 
on drug charges in early 1986 were illegal aliens. Both Customs 
and the INS have recognized the need for cooperation to stop 
"narco-traffickers" from using these migrants as their couriers. 47 

The Customs-Coast Guard connection harks back to Prohi- 
bition. Customs boats and Coast Guard cutters patrol coastal 
waters, Customs checks the reports, and the DEA prosecutes the 
malefactors. In a typical case, a cutter off the South Florida 
coast may stop a suspicious fishing boat, check it for customs 
and narcotics violations, find several bales of marijuana, and 
turn the haul over to customs agents back in port, who, in turn, 
will call in the DEA. 48 These days, the Customs Service not only 

45 Comptroller General of the United States, "Heroin Being Smuggled 
into New York City Successfully," Publication B- 164031 (2) (Washington, 
D.C.: 1972), Archives of the U.S. Customs Service, Washington, D.C. 

46 Regional Commissioner, Northeast Region, Weekly Management Brief 
MAN-1-0, May 1, 1986, Archives of the U.S. Customs Service, Washington, 

47 Joel Brinkley, "Immigration Bill Pressed By Meese," New York Times, 
September 18, 1986; "Border Drug Situation," Bridgeport (Connecticut) 
Post, May 23, 1986. 

48 U.S. v. Clark, Federal Reporter, Second Series, vol. 664 (St. Paul: 
1982), p. 1174. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

has its own boats in the water, but also has its own surveillance 
planes over it, in order to cover a greater area. In 1986 the two 
services also formed a Joint U.S. Coast Guard-Customs Mari- 
time Law Enforcement training program for their opposite 
numbers in several Caribbean nations. This effort is designed to 
show other officers the benefits of teamwork in "boarding 
procedures, search techniques, use of force, evidence handling, 
and drug identification." 49 

Another sort of interagency cooperation has grown during the 
DEA era between civilians and the military. The 1878 Posse 
Comitatus Act (18 U.S. C. 1385) prohibits the use of the Army or 
Air Force (and, by extension, the Navy or Marine Corps) in the 
direct enforcement of civil law, although military units may provide 
assistance to enforcing agencies. The limits of this aid are not 
clearly defined, however. No one was quite sure, for example, of 
such things as whether an Air Force pilot could fly a customs patrol 
mission on an Air Force plane until the General Accounting Office 
ruled in 1977 that military services could indeed transport civilian 
agents. 50 This interpretation has stretched over the years. By the late 
1980's the Department of Defense was far more involved in drug 
enforcement than it ever imagined it would be. Navy crews and 
vessels regularly go on "Coast Guard Assist" duty, snatching time 
from their Soviet submarine searches to look for drug runners, 
calling in Customs or the Coast Guard to make the arrest and 
seizure. 51 A far more dramatic deployment of military force was 
the transport of U.S. Army troops and equipment to help the DEA 
and Bolivia close down cocaine-processing plants in that South 
American nation. 52 

49 Assistant Commissioner, Office of Internal Affairs, Weekly Manage- 
ment Brief MAN-1-IN:PM BER, August 28, 1986, Archives of the US. 
Customs Service, Washington, D.C.; Elaine Shannon, "Running Silent, 
Running Fast," Newsweek, October 27, 1986. 

50 Kaiser, U.S. Customs Service, pp. 41-43. 

51 James Gerstenzang, "Military as Drug Police: Double Duty," Los 
Angeles Times, October 1, 1986. 

52 Joel Brinkley, "U.S. Sends Troops To Aid Bolivians in Cocaine Raids," 
New York Times, July 16, 1986; Stuart Taylor, Jr., "Bolivia Plan: Legal 


The War on Drugs 

The 1973 reorganization has helped the federal government 
take advantage of certain ambiguities in the law and in the 
jurisdiction of its branches to widen and strengthen its drug 
enforcement activities. It has done little to end interagency 
conflict and acrimony, however. Primarily because it simply took 
over an old organization without rethinking or remodeling a new 
one, the DEA has not been able to quash internal competition, 
and the individual agencies complain of fragmented and often 
inconsistent power and authority. 53 The Departments of Justice 
and the Treasury, however, can both make seizures for violations 
of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S. C. 881). 54 

In 1982 Vice President George Bush announced the estab- 
lishment of the South Florida Task Force, combining Customs' 
resources as well as those of other federal agencies. In 1985 
Customs augmented this initial effort with Operation Blue 
Lightning, a successful initiative to disrupt drug smuggling via 
fast boats from the Bahamas. Blue Lightning conferred federal 
authority on state and local law enforcement officers to assist in 
the interdiction mission. Blue Lightning's success diverted drug 
smuggling activity to the Mexican border. 55 

Three years later Vice President Bush and Attorney General 
Meese announced "Operation Alliance," a broad, multiagency 
program for the entire Southwest border, patterned after Blue 
Lightning. Drug policy, like politics, makes strange bedfellows. 
Participating in this latest assault were the Army, the Navy, and 
the Air Force; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; 
the Coast Guard; the Customs Service; the Department of State; 
the DEA; the Federal Aviation Administration; the FBI; the 

Doubts," ibid., July 16, 1986; Bradley Graham, "U.S. Army Joins Bolivian 
Drug Drive," Washington Post, July 16, 1986. 

Rachal, Federal Narcotics Enforcement, pp. 142-43. 

54 Michael T. Schmitz, Chief Counsel, Weekly Management Brief 
MAN-01 CC: MEC, September 18, 1986, Archives of the U.S. Customs 
Service, Washington, D.C. 

55 Michael Hedges, "Drug Task Forces Get Good Grades, but Narcotics Still 
Flood into U.S.," Washington Times, August 28, 1986; Stuart Seidel memoran- 
dum of March 24, 1989, U.S. Customs Service Archives, Washington, D.C. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

INS/Border Patrol; the Internal Revenue Service; the National 
Intelligence Community; the U.S. Marshals Service; the U.S. 
Secret Service; and state and local law enforcement units. 
Customs, assisted by the INS, was put in charge of the ports, 
while the Border Patrol ran its mobile strike force between the 
cities. The DEA, Customs, and the FBI conducted separate and 
joint investigations. The U.S. Marshals aided Customs in some 
land searches, while the Coast Guard helped with those by air 
and sea. Local authorities were expected to help when asked. 

The program's goal was to bring such pressure to bear on the 
border that the drug traffic would dry up. Such a policy worked 
in South Florida. The traffic there slowed. The air arm of the 
Customs Service deploys more than 100 planes, depending 
heavily on high-tech detection and communications equipment. 
Starting in 1974, Customs expanded operations to the South- 
western border after significant success in the Southeast. Two 
command centers — in Miami and in Riverside, California — con- 
trol the operations of this civil air force. 56 

It remains to be seen whether these operations improve drug 
interdiction or end the turf wars. In an era of growing deficits 
and shrinking budgets, the competition among the agencies for 
resources is keen. This situation is likely to continue as long as 
money is perceived to be the key to the problem. More officers, 
more radar planes, and more paramilitary operations with 
cryptic names may not, however, be the best way to solve the 
drug problem. Even DEA chief John C. Lawn has admitted that 
"law enforcement cannot, did not, and will not solve the 
appetite for drugs in this country." 57 

56 Francis A. Keating, "Operation Alliance: Law Enforcement's Most 
Widespread Interdiction Program," Police Chief, October 1986, pp. 47-48; 
U.S. Customs Service Office of Enforcement, Smuggling Investigations 
Division, "Smugglers' News," vol. FID4-FY86, p. 3, Archives of the U.S. 
Customs Service, Washington, D.C.; oral interviews with Al Wenzlaff, 
Aviation Group Supervisor, San Antonio Aviation Unit, March 23, 1989. 

57 Joel Brinkley, "Drug Law Raises More Than Hope," New York Times, 
November 2, 1986. 


The War on Drugs 

Opening Other Theaters: Drug Enforcement 
and Foreign Relations 

America's drug problem is obviously not entirely domestic. 
Although there are always a few enterprising gardeners raising 
their own marijuana crop in their backyards, most narcotics 
reach the United States from the Orient, the Mideast, and South 
America. The government has long recognized that cooperation 
with drug-producing and drug-exporting nations is essential to 
stop this global traffic, and has, during the course of the 20th 
century, tried a variety of approaches. The genteel agreements to 
limit and prohibit opium that were signed at Shanghai and The 
Hague before World War I evolved into military understandings 
after World War II. Customs has fought in all these campaigns, 
enforcing treaties, investigating and interdicting incoming and 
outgoing contraband, and even on occasion taking command 
and advocating policy reform. 

International drug control conferences in the early 20th 
century made a great show of unity among the nations of the 
world, and forced several of them to regulate narcotics within 
their own jurisdictions for the first time. Extensive research into 
the production, distribution, and use of narcotics in the partici- 
pating countries preceded the Shanghai Conference in 1909. The 
United States passed its law prohibiting the importation of 
smoking opium before that meeting, and from its resulting 
exemplary moral position was able to put the legal responsibility 
for opium traffic on the shoulders of the producing nations of 
Persia, Turkey, India, and China. 58 If this meeting produced little 
more than good intentions, The Hague conference three years 
later did not get much further than acknowledging the dangers 
of other drugs. Participants in the negotiations there pledged 
"their best efforts to control or cause to be controlled those who 
manufacture, import, sell, distribute, or export morphine, co- 

58 Cloyd, Drugs and Information Control, p. 51; Musto, American 
Disease, p. 9; Document 52a, Decimal File 811.114, 1909, Record Group 56, 
Department of State, National Archives, Washington, D.C. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

caine, and their respective salts," but did not devise any practical 
means of doing so. 59 

The absence of international control spurred the develop- 
ment of domestic restraints. The Harrison Narcotic Bill of 1914 
was an almost direct response to The Hague's empty resolutions. 
Besides restricting and taxing opium and cocaine within the 
United States, this law prohibited their export to any country 
that did not regulate their entry and use. The Treasury Depart- 
ment, through its newly created Narcotics Division, was in 
charge of enforcing the tax; through its collectors of customs it 
made sure that all drug shipments met the laws of the importing 
nation. 60 Congress also passed an Opium Act that year as part of 
its commitment to The Hague's "Convention for the Suppres- 
sion of Abuse of Opium and Drugs." Customs officers were to 
enforce this by making sure that drug shipments to China did not 
offend Chinese opium import regulations. 61 

The government also encouraged cooperation with foreign 
customs services. For example, Canadian officers agreed in 1916 
to look into the persistent problem of smuggling through 
Vancouver, British Columbia. 62 This sort of cooperation contin- 
ued well into Prohibition: The 1925 Hughes-LaPointe Treaty 
called for open communication and exchange of information 
between Canadian and American customs and prohibition 
agents regarding drug and alcohol smuggling. It also provided 
for the extradition of narcotics offenders. 63 

59 Cloyd, Drugs and Information Control, p. 55. 

60 Musto, American Disease, p. 50; Cloyd, Drugs and Information 
Control, p. 55; Schmeckebier, Customs Service, p. 77; Secretary of State 
Lansing to Secretary of Treasury McAdoo, November 15, 1915, Decimal File 
811.114/66, p. 101, Record Group 59, Department of State, National 
Archives, Washington, D.C.; Treasury Decision 34221, March 3, 1914, 
Archives of the U.S. Customs Service, Washington, D.C. 

61 Hill, History of the U.S. Customs Service, p. 94; Secretary of State 
Lansing to Thomas Sammons, October 20, 1916, Decimal File 811.114/101, 
Record Group 59, Department of State, National Archives, Washington, D.C. 

"Secretary of State Lansing to Secretary of Treasury McAdoo, November 
8, 1916, Decimal File 811.114/105, Record Group 59, Department of State, 
National Archives, Washington, D.C. 

63 "Border Rum Treaty Effective July 27," New York Times, July 18, 1925. 


The War on Drugs 

The rise in drug prices and addiction that followed the 
restrictions of the Harrison and Volstead Acts created a bullish 
international black market in drugs that has not stopped grow- 
ing in size or sophistication. This has made drug enforcement a 
major concern of our foreign policy, and one that has brought 
Customs out of the Treasury Department and into the trickier 
currents of international diplomacy. 

Sometimes the role is an outgrowth of an existing relation- 
ship. During the 1920's, for instance, American customs agents 
relied on the cooperation and vigilance of their Bahamian 
counterparts to help dry up the rum rows. During the 1980's the 
United States and the Bahamas ran several joint drug enforce- 
ment programs to stop the flow of narcotics through the islands 
to the American mainland. But instead of relying on the 
goodwill of diplomats and a few offshore undercover agents, 
today's interdiction programs depend on massive U.S. aid. In 
October 1986, Bahamian Prime Minister Sir Lyden Pindling 
came to Washington to lobby for a $54 million package that 
would greatly increase the number of American enforcement 
agents in his country. With more money, personnel, and equip- 
ment, he promised, the Bahamas could help the United States 
catch the smugglers who refuel and regroup in secluded coves on 
the more than 2,700 islands of his nation. 64 

Drug enforcement agents are also in place in Africa, a develop- 
ing smuggling center conveniently located halfway between Eastern 
producers and Western consumers. Customs officials have arrested 
several Nigerian nationals who have tried to bring heroin into the 
United States by "stuffing" five or seven ounces of the drug into a 
condom and inserting it into their bodies. Using information 
supplied by the DEA, Customs is also looking for other members 
of the five major rings with headquarters in Lagos. 65 

64 Mary Thornton, "Bahamas Asks U.S. for More Antidrug Help," 
Washington Post, October 4, 1986; Joel Brinkley, "In Fighting Drug Traffic, 
Attitude Wins the Aid," New York Times, October 7, 1986. 

65 Charles T. Powers, "Nigerians Getting High on Profits of Drug 
Smuggling, Authorities Say," Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1986. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

The situation in Latin America is somewhat more complex. 
The United States has tried several solutions to that smuggling 
problem. Following a strategy first suggested and attempted into 
the 1920's, the government in the 1980's pressured coca- 
producing countries to eradicate their crops. This effort yielded 
mixed results: Colombia destroyed 80 percent of its marijuana 
crop in two years, and Jamaica and Belize made comparable 
reductions. 66 Other countries needed economic incentives to 
heed diplomatic requests. In 1982 Congress passed a law requir- 
ing "the U.S. to withhold foreign aid to drug trafficking 
countries that, in the President's view, do not make adequate 
progress in attacking the problem." 67 In order to continue to 
receive its aid, Bolivia was supposed to wipe out half of its 
20,000 acres in coca production; it took care of 75 acres. Rather 
than lose the money, Bolivian officials asked for military aid, 
and, in July 1986, the Reagan administration sent a C-5A 
military transport carrying six helicopters; a C-130 with trucks, 
jeeps, radios, and camp gear; and more than 100 people to help 
Bolivia persuade its coca growers to find some other crop. 68 This 
was not the first time force had been used on South American 
fields. Earlier that year DEA agents had accompanied a Peru- 
vian strike unit in U.S. -financed raids on Peru's "Coca 
Valley." 69 

Although customs personnel are generally excluded from such 
exploits, the Customs Service has been able to affect policy on its 
own. In 1984 it introduced a resolution to combat the smuggling 
done by airline crews by making air and sea carriers responsible for 
the security of their aircraft and ships; this initiative was adopted by 

66 Emily S. Rosenberg, Spreading the American Dream (New York: 1982), 
p. 119; Joel Brinkley, "Diplomacy and Drugs," New York Times, March 26, 

67 Joel Brinkley, "U.S. Sends Troops to Aid Bolivians in Cocaine Raids," 
New York Times, July 16, 1986. 

68 Bradley Gran; 
Post, July 16, 1986 

69 "US.-E 
April 3, 1986 


68 Bradley Graham, "U.S. Army Joins Bolivian Drug Drive," Washington 
, J' 
? "U.S. -Backed Cocaine Raids Hit Pay Dirt in Peru," Washington Times, 

The War on Drugs 

the United Nations Division of Narcotic Drugs and the Customs 
Cooperation Council. 70 Between 1984 and 1986 the Customs 
Service also negotiated agreements with five shipping companies 
and several aviation firms to have them cooperate and assist in 
eliminating smuggling. Under Customs' Carrier Initiative, the 
ship's captain and officers agree to search the vessel and turn over 
any drugs found to U.S. Customs. The Customs Service, for its 
part, promises to suggest better security measures. Mutual effort is 
seen as the key to control. 71 

The Customs Service was a vocal participant in the planning for 
a 1987 World Conference on Drugs, but perhaps nowhere did it 
enjoy a higher profile than in the fight against drug smuggling 
across the Mexican border with the United States. The southwest- 
ern border has long been difficult to patrol. As early as 1928 
Federal narcotics squads, aided by the Customs and Border Patrols, 
complained of "insuperable" difficulties in stopping drugs at 
Laredo. With more than 24,000 visitor cards on file, hundreds of 
daily crossers, and ever-increasing numbers of cars and planes, 
agents could make only superficial checks. There were simply too 
few inspectors to search everyone and everything, and still follow up 
tips and leads on suspicious characters. But the smugglers them- 
selves were only a small part of the problem at Laredo. Officers 
there were frustrated by their inability to reach the sources, the big 
dealers who brought the stuff as far as the border and then watched 
their messengers carry it over while they waited safely in Mexico. To 
remedy this, the United States wanted to station undercover agents 
south of the border. 72 

Mexico's lack of cooperation exasperated customs officers 
and infuriated the head of the Federal Narcotics Control Board, 
Harry J. Anslinger. Contemptuous of Mexican officials who 

70 "United States Customs Service Accomplishments," (1987), p. 15. 

71 Rita McWilliams, "Colombian Shipper Accepts Drug Searches," Wash- 
ington Times, May 30, 1986; and Juliana King, "Grancolombiana Cited for 
Drug Fight," Journal of Commerce, May 30, 1986. 

2 "Check On Narcotics Hampered at Border," New York Times, Febru- 
ary 26, 1928. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

promised to help but did little or nothing, Anslinger proposed 
unilateral U.S. border action. His calls went unanswered, but as 
the supply of drugs fording the Rio Grande grew during the 
1950's and 1960's, his ideas sounded better and better. The 
highly publicized Operation Intercept put the thought into 
action during September and October 1969. A total of 2,000 
Customs and Border Patrol agents intensively searched every 
vehicle and more than five million tourists. The operation 
backed up traffic for miles, drew the protests of local citizens 
and municipalities, and yielded no contraband. The program's 
notoriety did bring Mexico's reluctant agreement to some polic- 
ing, however. This public concession satisfied Washington. The 
operation's name was changed from Intercept to Cooperation, 
and shortly thereafter it was quietly abandoned. 73 

Customs Commissioner William von Raab reopened the 
border war in the spring of 1986. Pointing to the logarithmic 
increase in smuggling in the Southwest, von Raab called the 
region a "modern day horror story" and asked the Reagan 
administration to declare it a "crisis zone." He offered several 
reasons for the rise: Customs pressure on the Florida coast 
forced many traffickers to move their operations; more and more 
opium poppies and marijuana were in cultivation in Mexico; and 
Mexican agents were cooperating less and less with American 
efforts. But von Raab's most damning accusation was that 
Mexican officials were corrupt, even to the point of growing 
poppies on their own ranches. The commissioner's remarks were 
more than a nine days' wonder, not to mention an embarrass- 
ment to U.S. -Mexican relations, but they were not without result. 
That summer President Reagan announced a new $250 million 
drug interdiction plan for the troubled border. 74 

73 Kinder and Walker, "Anslinger," p. 919; Edward J. Epstein, Agency of 
Fear: Opiates and Political Power in America (New York: 1977), pp. 82-85; 
Christopher R. Turner, "Drugs, Databanks and Dignity: Computerized 
Selection of Travelers for Intrusive Border Searches," Boston University Law 
Review (1976), p. 942, n. 21. 

74 Von Raab's remarks were covered extensively in the press. See, for 
example, Mary Thornton, "Rio Grande: Refuge Line For Drug Moving 


The War on Drugs 

Von Raab's accusations had direct results for Customs as 
well. Despite federal budget cuts that had played havoc with 
agencies and institutions throughout the nation, the Customs 
Service allotment was raised to over $1 billion and its legal 
authority was expanded. The commissioner interpreted these 
measures as an indication of public concern and "high regard for 
the job being performed by Customs as well as our central 
involvement in the burning issues of the day. . . . Concern over 
drugs is greater than at any time in our nation's history, and the 
Customs Service is in the front line against drugs." With his 
shocking remarks, von Raab had effectively refocused national 
attention on Customs' responsibility for drug enforcement. He 
used the Service's role in international affairs to restore and 
renew the authority and status of the agency he saw in danger of 
being lost in the federal narcotics machinery. 75 

The Never-Ending Story 

In September 1986, President and Mrs. Reagan preempted 
prime-time television programming to announce a new $1 billion 
offensive in the long-running war on drugs. In a speech laced 
with military metaphor, the Reagans asked the nation to pull 
together to defeat its common enemy. "Drugs are menacing our 
society," they warned. "They're threatening our values and 
undercutting our institutions. They're killing our children." 76 

Army," Washington Post, April 21, 1986; Dan Williams, "Meese Confers 
with Mexican Attorney General on Effort to Destroy Drug Crops," Los 
Angeles Times, April 15, 1986; Michael Hedges and Jennifer Spevacek, 
"$250 Million Plan Set to Halt Drugs at Border," Washington Times, August 
12, 1986; Joel Brinkley, "U.S. Officials Denouncing Mexico for Huge Rise in 
Drug Trafficking," New York Times, May 12, 1986; and Joel Brinkley, 
"Mexico? Did Someone Mention Mexico?" New York Times, October 28, 

75 William von Raab, Memo to All Customs Employees Re New Re- 
sources and New Responsibilities, October 24, 1986, Archives of the U.S. 
Customs Service, Washington, D.C. 

76 "Excerpts From Speech on Halting Drug Abuse," New York Times, 
September 15, 1986. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Counting on public fear and concern to support him, the 
President then unveiled his own, stiffer plan to win the war, and 
called for changes in privacy laws, relaxed rules of evidence, 
mandatory jail terms, and even the death penalty, to defeat the 
drug traffickers. 77 

With great cheering and fanfare, the government thus 
launched its newest campaign. But by the new year, Reagan had 
already begun to cut back the scope and support of his brave new 

For the Customs Service it was business as usual. During the 
140 years it has been charged with drug enforcement, it has 
witnessed the rise and fall of public hysteria, endured bureau- 
cratic reorganizations, and survived budgetary competition. 
Reagan's plan was but another chapter in the continuing and 
confusing saga of federal drug interdiction. The Customs Service 
would continue to do what it had done all along: pursue its 
mission to stop contraband narcotics at our borders. 

77 Gerald M. Boyd, "Reagan Proposes New Drug Laws and Orders Tests of 
U.S. Workers," New York Times, September 16, 1986; Niles Lathem, "Prez 
Warns: 'You Do Drugs, You Do Time', " New York Post, September 16, 1986. 


Chapter X 

American moral values have not been limited to restrictions 
on drink or drugs. The Puritan heritage that is a part of the 
American national character applies equally to sexual mores and 
has provided the nation with a history of legislation addressing 
that most personal of all human activities. 

Customs has had the difficult task of enforcing federal laws 
about the importation and possession of obscene and porno- 
graphic materials since 1842. In so doing it has had to face many 
of the issues that have plagued alcohol and drug enforcement, 
most notably public cynicism about and resistance to govern- 
ment invasion of privacy and imposition of morality. It has had 
to share its authority with other federal agencies, particularly the 
U.S. Postal Service and the Justice Department. Its greatest 
handicap, however, has been having to work with vaguely framed 
legislation that never clearly defines pornography. 

The Customs Service's first targets were erotic pictures; it had 
been screening books and pamphlets for titillating and treason- 
able matter since the end of the 19th century. Although the 
Supreme Court's increasingly liberal interpretation of what is 
and is not obscene blunted the force of the government's 
antipornography efforts after World War II, the Customs Service 
has recently renewed and expanded its mission in this field. 
Almost single-handedly it has taken on the pursuit and prosecu- 
tion of child pornographers. As a result it has claimed a new 


The U.S. Customs Service 

responsibility as well as a greater role in federal criminal 
enforcement activities. 

Serving Two Masters: Pornography Enforcement in the 
19th Century 

Obscenity has generally been defined as a sex issue. A 1711 
Massachusetts statute may have been more concerned with 
antireligious materials than with explicitly sexual matters, but it 
did prohibit the "composing, writing, printing or publishing of 
any filthy, obscene or profane song [or] pamphlet." The first 
case to be prosecuted under this Puritan act resulted in the 1821 
trial of the publisher of Fanny Hill. Vermont passed its first 
obscenity law that same year, and the 1820's and '30's saw other 
States follow suit, broadening the definition of obscenity to 
include any works "manifestly tending to the corruption of the 
morals of youth." l It should come as no surprise that this 
concern for the purity of youth paralleled the rise of temperance 
agitation and legislation. It was all part of the agenda of that 
reform-minded generation. 

Pornography remained a matter of local jurisdiction until 
Congress, drawing on its right to regulate foreign commerce, 
passed the Tariff of 1942. Customs, as the enforcing agency, was 
given what seemed to be remarkably clear and straightforward 
duties. The law prohibited all indecent and obscene prints, 
paintings, lithographs, engravings, and transparencies from en- 
tering the United States. Customs officers were also to stop any 
publication advocating treason, insurrection, resistance to 
American law, or threats to another's life; any obscene or 
immoral publications or devices; any lottery tickets or advertise- 
ments for same; and any drug or instrument for causing 

l O. John Rogge, "Obscenity litigation," American Jurisprudence Trials, 
10§28 (San Francisco: 1965), pp. 9-11; Shirley O'Brien, Child Pornography 
(Dubuque, Iowa: 1983), pp. 51-63. 


Customs and Pornography 

unlawful abortion. The tariff's ban on contraceptives was not 
overturned by Congress until 1948. 

In September 1842, Messrs. Poppy and L. Smith imported 
about $700 worth of goods from Germany. Included in the 
shipment were nine snuff boxes, which alert customs officers 
immediately seized. Why? Because those snuff boxes "had false 
bottoms, on each of which was painted an indecent scene or 
figure, of so very obscene a character that they were not fit to be 
produced in court." In fact, only one was presented to the jury, 
"having first been defaced with ink to hide its obscenity." The 
two merchants were aware that the government could condemn 
their whole shipment. They argued that they had ordered the 
goods before the tariff was passed; that they were unaware of the 
paintings; and finally, that those articles were not the obscene 
paintings, prints, lithographs, engravings, or transparencies 
specified in the law, but simple decorations on snuff boxes. The 
jury, however, heeded the judge's instructions to consider the 
intent of the act and condemned the whole shipment. 2 

The condemnation confused both importers and customs 
officers. Were entire shipments, obscene or not, to become U.S. 
property because of a few tainted articles, or could merchants 
sue to reclaim legal goods? San Francisco collector Butler King 
was advised in 1851 to confiscate the entire package in which he 
found obscene materials and to destroy "the indecent prints, 
paintings, etc . . . forthwith, but to leave the rest of the ship's 
cargo alone." 3 Seven years later, when Boston and Charlestown 
Collector Arthur W. Austin seized a case of stereoscopic slides 
that one Walter P. Cottle had imported on the steamship Arabia, 
he condemned all of them, destroying the 59 obscene slides and 
selling off the other 1,924. 4 

U.S. v. Three Cases of Toys, The Federal Cases Comprising Cases 
Argued and Determined in the Circuit and District Courts of the United 
States, vol. 28 (St. Paul: 1896), pp. 1 12-13, hereafter known as Federal Cases. 

3 William L. Hodge to Butler King, July 22, 1851, San Francisco Custom 
House Papers and Records (1850-1852), U.S. Treasury Department, MSS 
0.138, Essex Institute Historical Collections, Salem, Massachusetts. 

4 U.S. v. One Case Stereoscopic Slides, Federal Cases, vol. 27, pp. 255-56. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

The Tariff of 1842 had placed Customs at the intersection of 
the sometimes opposing demands of commerce and morality, 
and it was hard to service both at the same time. This is perhaps 
best illustrated by the case of Amar Young Brothers and 
Company. These Philadelphia haberdashers imported $10,000 
worth of linen handkerchiefs and shirt fronts from Liverpool in 
January 1864. Twelve of the 165 boxes of handkerchiefs, how- 
ever, "were found to be embellished with pictures and fancy 
drawings, much too common in our shop windows, and known 
as 'Susanna at the Bath,' 'Diana and her Nymphs,' &C. &C." 
Customs inspectors seized the dozen boxes and brought them to 
the court for condemnation. A jury would decide whether these 
articles could indeed corrupt public morals (in which case the 
condemnation stood) or whether they were only "of a coarse and 
vulgar nature, but insignificant in themselves and harmless, 
however reprehensible it might be to deal in them" (in which case 
Young could offer them for sale). 

The defense and prosecution arguments specifically ad- 
dressed the causes of economics and ethics. Boxes and cartons 
similar to these, said the defense lawyers, "were imported and 
sold at this port by the first class mercantile firms as freely as 
were the linen-handkerchiefs they contained, which" they added, 
"were usually of the best quality of linen goods imported." 
Although the merchants were quite willing to agree that these 
"fancy boxes" were "rather indelicate for family use," they 
considered themselves justified in buying and selling them as 
they had done for years, simply because the "fancy prints" 
helped sales. 

Assistant U.S. District Attorney Ethan Allen ripped right 
through the defense. After pointing out that if something were 
no good for family use, it was certainly no good for the 
community ("which was happily an aggregation of families"); 
and he reminded the jury that neither past practice nor high 
status "justify debauchery nor make indecency respectable." 
Quite the contrary. Allen warned that "if the importation of 
such articles had become so common, that men of probity and 


Customs and Pornography 

high social position openly advocated the traffic, this fact of 
itself was an argument why the salacious, lewd current, which 
was setting towards our shores from Europe, and increasing in 
volume, should be stopped forthwith and forever." After a 
half-hour of deliberation, the jury decided for the government. 5 

But the tariff did not keep America free of pornography. In 
fact, as all good tariffs do, it stimulated the development of a 
healthy native industry. By the Civil War, domestic supply was 
equal to soldiers' demands for lewd books and pictures. 

Most of these reached the army camps through the U.S. mail. 
In an attempt to stop the distribution of pornographic materials, 
Congress in 1865 prohibited obscene matter from the mails. It 
failed, however, to give the Post Office any real enforcement 
power. Not until Anthony Comstock invited the Young Men's 
Christian Association to form the Committee for the Suppres- 
sion of Vice in 1868 did Congress begin to feel the need to do 
anything more. But five years of Comstock 's lobbying produced 
a stiffer law, and Comstock himself was named to enforce it. 
Under his enthusiastic supervision, the Post Office seized and 
destroyed "134,000 pounds of books, 19,000 pictures, 5,000 
packs of playing cards and 60,000 rubber articles" between 1873 
and 1875, while the courts moved aggressively against publishers 
of pornographic literature. 6 

The Post Office often duplicated Customs' efforts. As early 
as 1829 the Treasury Department had noted the possibility of 
smuggling contraband and dutiable items through the mails. It 
also recognized that "the Post-Office Laws contain some provi- 
sions in relation to this subject" and that "care should be 
taken ... to avoid collision" between the two authorities. A 
Treasury circular from that year ruled that a customs officer 
would examine letter bags before they left the ship and remove 
any suspicious envelopes or packages before the bags were 

5 U.S. v. A mar Young Brothers and Company, Federal Cases, vol. 1, p. 

6 0'Brien, Child Pornography, p. 53. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

turned over to the Post Office. The items that were withheld 
would remain at the customhouse until the owner or consignee 
came to collect, and open, them in the collector's presence. 
Customs thus had the authority to search and seize mail without 
a warrant as part of its mission to protect both the revenue and 
the morality of the United States. 7 

Customs was in charge of vetting foreign mail; the Post 
Office domestic. As both agencies obviously handled printed 
matter and merchandise from abroad, the limits of each agency's 
jurisdiction were not always clear-cut. Certainly the public was 
sometimes confused. In 1868, Ellen Mordecai of Mobile, Ala- 
bama, wrote to the Postmaster General asking that certain books 
she was importing from Ireland for presentation to intimate 
friends "be transmitted to her address unopened by customs 
officers." She added that she hoped her request had reached the 
proper authority. 8 

By the 1890's Customs and the Post Office had begun to 
work out a modus operandi based on mutual reinforcement 
instead of competition. They had a system of controlled deliv- 
eries in practice before the turn of the century. Under this policy 
a postal official held a suspicious letter or package from abroad 
at the post office, and asked a customs officer to be present 
when the addressee appeared to claim and open it. Should the 
package contain "lottery or obscene matter" it was turned over 
to the postmaster for disposal under postal laws. Within 10 years 
customs officials regularly detailed subordinates for duty at 
major post offices to aid in the inspection of the mail for revenue 
fraud. 9 

7 Treasury Department, Circular Instructions to Collectors of Customs, 
August 10, 1829, October 9, 1852, March 12, 1888, and July 21, 1891, 
Archives of the US. Customs Service, Washington, D.C. 

8 Letter # 4122, Box August 1820- January 1878, Letters Received from 
the Post Office Department, 1820-1901, Entry # 150, Treasury Department 
Records, Record Group 56, National Archives, Washington, D.C. 

9 Treasury Department Circulars 136 (November 26, 1873), 178 (October 
25, 1897), 64 (May 4, 1900), 17 (March 1, 1907), Archives of the U.S. 
Customs Service, Washington, D.C. 


Customs and Pornography 

Customs and the Post Office enforced 19th century mores 
well into the 20th century. Their cooperation even excluded 
Tolstoy's "Kreutzer Sonata"; The Arabian Nights; printed re- 
productions of Michelangelo's paintings; and even such best- 
sellers as Forever Amber, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Tobacco 
Road. 10 Each generation, however, redefines obscenity for itself. 
The 20th century has seen a progressively more liberal interpre- 
tation of pornography legislation. The Customs Service, charged 
with upholding that legislation, often finds itself forced to 
defend its actions to a nation expecting consistent enforcement 
of the very laws it is constantly testing. 

The Prohibition of Pornography: Enforcement Before 
World War II 

The Progressive Era that gave the United States national 
Prohibition was equally zealous about a second kind of prohi- 
bition. During the first decades of the 20th century, reformers 
and crusaders waged war against anything related to sex. Fol- 
lowing Comstock's flag, 30 states passed their own obscenity 
laws. The early decades of the 20th century saw rising citizen 
opposition to obscenity. Voltaire, Rabelais, and Boccaccio were 
eyed with the same suspicion as the authors whose lurid stories 
filled the pages of the Police Gazette. 

Nervous publishers even printed certain parts of the Bible 
separately so as not to offend good taste. There was no official 
map showing the way through this morass either. At least one 
observer noted that "the ban indices of the two great federal 
agencies— Post Office and Customs— seldom agreed." » 

Customs confidently seized and destroyed obscene or im- 
moral articles imported through regular channels throughout the 
1920's. During the first quarter of 1926, for example, Boston 

Rogge, "Obscenity Litigation," pp. 100-05. 
Morris L. Ernst, "Sex W 
3507 (August 10, 1932), p. 123. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

officers routinely collected several sorts of contraceptive devices, 
obscene photographs and postcards, 300 lottery tickets, even a 
copy of a publication called Science and Health, with no 
challenge from either the importer or the public. 12 The courts 
usually vindicated Customs' actions in those few cases that were 
appealed. A 1928 Treasury circular applauded a federal judge's 
support of the Minneapolis collector who excluded such books 
as The Law Concerning Draped Virginity, The Abuses of the 
Genital Sense, The Vice of Women, and Ulysses. "Only a casual 
glance through the books in evidence is sufficient to satisfy us 
that they are filled with obscenity of the rottenest and vilest 
character," concurred the Treasury Department. "If merchandise 
of this character is to be admitted into the United States, then 
section 305 of the tariff act of 1922 [the section that deals with 
obscene and immoral articles] should be erased from the statute 
books." 13 

The following year the government agreed with the Boston 
collector who banned Balzac's Ten Droll Tales and Boccaccio's 
Decameron because their "obscenity is accented by pictorial 
illustration of like character." 14 The Treasury also approved the 
exclusion of Enduring Passion by Marie Stopes, the Margaret 
Sanger of Britain. This guide for married lovers was "offensive 
to the innate modesty of the average man and 
woman. . . . One is amazed and shocked at the boldness, yet 
withal subtle suavity, of its language and expression." This 
circular served also as a convenient pulpit from which to remind 
customs personnel that "familiarity with obscenity tends to 
blunt the sensibilities, deprave good taste, and pervert the 

12 Thomas Finnegan to James L. Dunn, April 26, 1926, Customs, 
Immigration, and Navigation Fines and Letters, vol. 19, Port of Boston 
Custom House, Bureau of Customs Papers, Record Group 36, Federal 
Records Center, National Archives, Waltham, Massachusetts; U.S. v. One 
Package, Federal Reporter, Second Series, vol. 86 (St. Paul: 1937), p. 737. 

13 Treasury Decision 42907, Treasury Decisions, vol. 54 (Washington, 
D.C.: 1929), p. 121. 

14 Treasury Decisions 10122, 9470, Treasury Decisions, vol. 56 (Washing- 
ton, D.C., 1930), pp. 891, 775. 


Customs and Pornography 

judgement." 15 But as public opposition to alcohol prohibition 
grew, so did protests against censorship. By the start of the new 
decade, Customs found itself on the defensive. 

The debates over the provisions of the 1930 Smoot-Hawley 
Tariff publicized the extent of Customs' censorial powers. 
Senator Smoot proposed expanding the definitions of treason- 
able and threatening literature in section 305 to embrace Com- 
munist and socialist sentiments. He also wanted to move the 
final decision about the obscenity of a particular import from a 
customs to a federal district court. Smoot, who considered the 
poems of Robert Burns "beastly," appealed to his colleagues "to 
throw the arms of protection around the army of boys and girls 
who later must constitute the citizenry of this country." 16 The 
Senate obliged. 

Not everyone agreed. The Civil Liberties Union warned that 
the Smoot amendment would end the existing right of an 
importer to appeal a customs decision in district court; a 
Harvard law professor worried that prohibiting certain kinds of 
"revolutionary" literature would also exclude many important 
social, political, and economic treatises the radicalism of which, 
if any, appeared in only a small section of the work." 17 And 
New Mexico's Senator Cutting, cautioning that a "literary 
bootlegging trade" would rise to fill the vacuum left by wider 
censorship, urged eliminating books from review altogether. His 
reasons were practical as well as ideological. What, Cutting 
asked, if there were other customs collectors like the gentleman 
at Baltimore who confiscated a book by Rabelais without ever 
having opened it and who did not know whether Chaucer, 
Fielding, and Smollett were still alive? 18 

15 Treasury Decision 43603, in ibid., pp. 273, 277. 

16 "Senators Debate Book Censorship," New York Times, March 18, 
1930, p. 5. 

17 "Fights Red Writings Ban," New York Times, September 15, 1929, p. 
21; "Says Tariff Sets Up Literary Censorship," in ibid., September 28, 1929, 
p. 4. 

18 "Court Censorship on Foreign Books Adopted by Senate," in ibid., 
March 19, 1930, p. 1. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Ignorance was not the only charge hurled at customs officers. 
One importer complained that agents had seized a rare, signed 
edition of a 20-year-old book and marked the objectionable 
passages with a pencil, much the way "some prudish person" 
might clothe Botticelli's Venus, and this despite the fact that 
reprints of this book were readily available at the nearest 
department store. 19 

A serious accusation appeared in an editorial in The Nation 
in 1933: that customs collectors were bending the rules so that 
their decisions would not be tested in court. Evidently officers 
had allowed a copy of George Moore's A Story-Teller's Holiday, 
long on the proscribed list, to enter the country because they 
knew that the National Council for Freedom from Censorship 
planned to challenge the ban. The Customs Service freely 
admitted that should the importer be willing to forget about 
taking the case to court, the book would be prohibited again. 
"The really significant fact," the editor pointed out in recounting 
this story, "is simply the willingness of the Customs authorities 
to play fast and loose with their own rules. . . . One hardly 
expects the representatives of the law to be concerned only with 
what they can get away with." 20 

Strange problems plagued a service asked to enforce an 
unclear law. For example, one cold day in February 1933 
inspectors in New York City opened a package addressed to a 
Lexington Avenue art gallery and stared at the contents in 
shocked disbelief. Immediately seizing the shipment, they 
promptly sent the gallery a form letter requesting permission to 
destroy the offensive merchandise. The gallery did nothing, 
trusting that someone at the customhouse would come to his or 
her senses. After four days, someone did. Assistant Solicitor 
George N. Brewer looked into the box, saw the "ten pamphlets 
of rotogravure reproductions" of the Sistine Chapel frescoes, 

19 "Says Customs Men Defaced Rare Book," in ibid., May 13, 1930, p. 16. 
20 "Purity at the Port," The Nation, vol. 136, no. 3529 (February 22, 
1933), p. 194. 


Customs and Pornography 

and dispatched them uptown at once. A tongue-in-cheek edito- 
rial in the next day's New York Times suggested that Michelan- 
gelo might indeed be barred from the United States, not because 
the nude figures in his paintings offend public decency, but 
because he is a foreign artist dumping pictures here when 
thousands of American artists are out of work. 21 

Somewhat less drastic were Customs' actions in what was 
perhaps its most famous battle of the time: the exclusion of the 
novel Ulysses by James Joyce. Barred from these shores since 
before its official publication in Paris in 1922, the book was 
nevertheless a popular souvenir of a European holiday that 
returning tourists rarely managed to take off the pier with them. 
Literati in all English-speaking countries, forced to read the 
book in bootleg reprints, hailed it as a classic. In 1933, Bennett 
Cerf, an editor at Random House and the Modern Library, 
decided that the time was ripe for an American edition; so many 
underground copies had been circulated that the price had 
slipped from $50 to $25 a copy. 22 Cerf applied to Customs to 
have one copy admitted legally under the non-commercial-use 
rule; this loophole, intended to benefit serious bibliophiles like 
J.P. Morgan, permitted entry of single copies of any book as 
long as they were for private use. 

Customs saw through the ruse and seized the book when it 
arrived in New York that June. In July the matter went to district 
court. In November, Judge John M. Woolsey was still reading it, 
"very puzzled" about its obscenity. He gave it to two literary 
friends to read also, and neither of them found it pornographic 
either. Although Woolsey admitted that Leopold Bloom's adven- 
tures might be "a strong draught to ask some sensitive, normal 
person to take," he ruled that Joyce had not written "dirt for 

Customs Censors Bar Vatican Art," New York Times, February 15, 
1933, p. 19; Editorial, in ibid., February 16, 1933, p. 18. 

22 Parts of Ulysses had been printed in The Little Review in 1918, but the 
Post Office had been in charge of quickly collecting and making a bonfire of 
the mailed copies of that issue. See "Ban Upon 'Ulysses' To Be Fought 
Again," New York Times, June 24, 1933, p. 14. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

dirt's sake." On December 6, 1933, the day after the 18th 
Amendment was repealed, Ulysses finally cleared customs, and 
Cerf prepared for its January 1934 publication. 23 

The editors of the Times, aware of the parallel course of 
prohibition and pornography legislation, mused that Joyce 
supporters will "probably be chagrined ... to find that the 
public has no great interest in this long-banned novel. While 
under exclusion, it was furtively read with delight; now that it 
can be freely bought and sold, there will be less appetite for it, 
one imagines. 24 

By 1934 the Treasury Department had come to understand 
the depth of public opposition to its decisions. To protect itself, 
it engaged a "literary expert attached to the Collector of 
Customs" to read and review the morality of books entering the 
United States. Thirty-year-old Baltimore lawyer Huntington 
Cairns was the first to bear the unusual title. A well-read, 
well-respected advocate, and a published author himself, Cairns 
had often challenged customs seizures in court. Now, the 
Treasury hoped, he would forestall those challenges. While 
rejoicing that the job had gone to "a gentleman of cultivated and 
refined taste" instead of "some prominent Nice-Nellie or to some 
Board of Snoopers appointed by the DAR and the Federation of 
Women's Clubs," some critics regretted that such a position was 
necessary at all. 25 

Changing Currents: Customs and the Definition 
of Pornography 

World War II temporarily shifted Customs' most rigorous 

23 "Test Set for 'Ulysses'," New York Times, July 12, 1933, p. 15; "Court 
Undecided on 'Ulysses' Ban," in ibid., November 26, 1933, p. 16; and "Judge 
Woolsey on 'Ulysses'," Saturday Review of Literature, vol. 10 (December 16, 
1933) p. 356. 

^Editorial, New York Times, December 8, 1933. p. 24. 

25 "New Book 'Censor' Liberal in Views," in ibid., October 21, 1934; "An 
Ellis Island for Books," The Nation, vol. 139, no. 3617 (October 31, 1934), p. 


Customs and Pornography 

scrutiny to another type of interdicted material. While govern- 
ment censors blue-penciled V-mail, customs inspectors were 
checking the books, papers, and pamphlets from abroad for 
treasonable or seditious statements. Here, too, the proper inter- 
pretation of questionable material could be a problem for 
collectors. In 1943, for example, New York City Collector Harry 
M. Durning detained several books from Britain "for the 
duration of the war." These were political and religious books, 
not erotic ones; they bore titles such as The Free Thinker and 
The Papacy and Politics Today. Durning and his staff obviously 
felt it was far better to be safe than sorry. If these works were not 
downright treasonable, they were at least inimical to the war 
effort. The district court judge disagreed. Releasing the books 
after a six month detainment, he noted that it was "difficult to 
perceive what possible relation this material can have to the 
conduct of the war." 26 

The Supreme Court, however, was still laboring to find a 
workable definition of pornography. In 1942 it excluded obscene 
material from protection under the First Amendment. But what 
exactly was to be excluded? blasphemy? profanity? war? or the 
traditional expressions of sexual violence? This question, which 
has occupied courts and commissions up to the present day, has 
often been forced by test cases provided by the Customs Service. 

When the Institute for Sex Research, Inc., at Indiana Uni- 
versity imported several explicit photographs for one of its 
projects, the Customs Service questioned whether the pictures 
really were for scientific research and condemned them. A court 
overturned this ruling. Comparing the pictures to a potentially 
harmful bacterium that could be carefully studied in order to 
benefit society, the judge placed the purpose of the photos over 
their content and vowed that "the work of serious scholars need 
find no impediment." 27 Customs' confiscation of Dorothy 

26 Truth Seeker Co., Inc. v. Durning, Federal Reporter, Second Series, vol. 
147 (St. Paul, 1945), p. 55. 

21 U.S. v. 31 Photographs, Federal Supplement, vol. 156 (St. Paul, 1958), 
pp. 357-58. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Upham's personal copy of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer when 
she returned to New York from her Greek holiday in 1960 gave 
the American Civil Liberties Union its day to challenge the 
constitutionality of obscenity laws in court. 28 And the nudist 
magazines detained by a Baltimore collector in 1967 forced 
consideration of whether the presence or absence of clothing 
defined obscenity. 29 

Other cases challenged the government's authority to define 
obscenity, determine a book's morality. Despite its sexual subject 
matter, a federal judge ruled in 1959 that Lady Chatterly's Lover 
was not obscene. 30 The Nation had worried in 1934 that "some 
obliging office boy" made the decisions for Customs, and at 
least one lawyer has noted that an initial reviewer with "low 
standards" could release a flood of pornography into the 
country. 31 But other judges have been willing to accept Customs' 
opinions. When the importer of a Swedish film titled "491" 
disputed the actions of the agents who detained it, the district 
judge pointed out that "customs officials who had years of 
experience in screening obscene motion pictures were in a 
position to give expert opinion as to whether the picture was 
obscene." 32 

This concern with credentials is really a symptom of the 
confusion about the meaning of the law that the Customs 
Service must enforce. The Supreme Court decisions that finally 
declared Leopold and Molly Bloom, Lady Chatterly, and Fanny 
Hill fit guests for American living rooms represented a relaxation 

2S Upham v. Dill, in ibid., vol. 195, p. 5. 

29 U.S. v. Reliable Sales Co., Federal Reporter, Second Series, vol. 376 (St. 
Paul, 1967), p. 808. 

30 Grove Press Inc. v. Christenberry, Federal Reporter, Second Series, vol. 
276, p. 439. 

3 "An Ellis Island for Books," p. 496; Edward T. Byrne, "Government 
Seizures of Imported Obscene Matter: Section 305 of the Tariff Act of 1930 
and Recent Supreme Court Obscenity Decisions," Columbia Journal of 
Transnational Law, vol. 13, no. 1 (1974), p. 116n. 

32 U.S. v. One Carton Positive Motion Picture Film Entitled "491," 
Federal Supplement, vol. 248, p. 373. 


Customs and Pornography 

of the nation's moral standards but came no closer to defining 

The more relaxed attitude was only temporary anyway. In 
1967, Congress decided that obscenity was a major issue facing 
the nation and appointed an 18-member Commission on Ob- 
scenity and Pornography. This commission was given a four-part 
mission: (1) to analyze pornography control laws and come up 
with a usable definition of obscenity; (2) to assess the extent of 
the pornography trade in the country; (3) to study pornography's 
effects on behavior; and (4) to recommend legislation to regulate 
this trade. 

In September 1970 the commission presented its final report. 
Concluding that there was no causal link between obscenity and 
either moral degeneracy or criminal behavior, it called for the 
repeal of all antipornography laws. President Nixon rejected the 
report. Repeating the traditional equation of obscenity with the 
destruction of the nation, he warned that a tolerance of pornog- 
raphy "would contribute to an atmosphere condoning anarchy in 
every field — and would increase the threat to our social order as 
well as to our moral principles. ... So long as I am in the 
White House, there will be no relaxation of the national effort to 
control and eliminate smut from our national life." 33 

In 1973 the Supreme Court proposed a new standard for 
determining what was and was not obscene, and then dumped the 
responsibility for applying those criteria on the States. In his 
opinion re Miller v. California, Chief Justice Warren Burger 
described pornography as works of no serious literary, scientific, 
political, or artistic value which depict sexual conduct in an 
offensive way. He added, however, that prevailing local standards 
should apply. Thus Deep Throat could be banned in Birmingham 
while playing to capacity audiences in New York City, and customs 
officers could detain I Am Curious Yellow in one port but release 

33 Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents 36 (November 2, 
1970), pp. 1454-55. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

it to the theater at another. With no national standards in effect, 
Customs was being asked to do the impossible. 

The task of coming up with some definite obscenity tests was 
not taken up again until May 1985, when U.S. Attorney General 
Edwin Meese III named an 1 1 -member commission to study the 
nature and effects of pornography on a national life already 
severely strained by drug abuse, uncertain economics, and 
foreign terrorism. During a year of meetings, panelists reviewed 
2,325 magazines, 725 books, and 2,370 films and then released 
their findings to the public. Reversing the 1970 commission 
findings, the commissioners wrote that their experience 
"strongly supports the hypothesis that substantial exposure to 
sexually violent materials . . . bears a causal relationship to 
antisocial acts of sexual violence. . . . Substantial exposure to 
material of this variety is likely to increase the extent to which 
those exposed will view rape or other forms of sexual violence as 
less serious than they otherwise would have." 34 

But there was division in the ranks. Not all panelists agreed 
there was a link between the multi-billion-dollar pornography 
industry and sex crimes in the United States. Two panelists, Ellen 
Levine and Judith V. Becker, questioned both the commission's 
methods and its faith in imprecise social science research tech- 
niques. They charged that what was purported to be a scientific 
study of the relationship between pornography and crime was 
really a rushed, incomplete, and biased investigation. 35 Criticism 
came from without as well. The American Civil Liberties Union, 
noting that the commission's report, with its explicit descriptions 
of the materials it reviewed, was sure to be a "pornographic 
bestseller," argued that the results belied the conclusions. The 
panel obviously believed, observed ACLU legislative counsel 

34 "ACLU Challenges Pornography Panel's Secrecy," Washington Post, 
March 4, 1986; "Detailed Descriptions in Pornography Report," New York 
Times, May 27, 1986; and John McCaslin, "Panel Report Links Violence to 
Hard-Core Pornography," Washington Times, July 10, 1986. 

35 Philip Shenon, "Two on U.S. Commission Dissent on a Pornography 
Link to Violence," New York Times, May 19, 1986. 


Customs and Pornography 

Barry Lynn, "if the average American sees it, then he's headed 
down the road to criminality or deviance. They always feel it 
doesn't bother them, but it must bother someone else." 36 

Judges and panelists may argue whether it is harmful or 
benign, but no one can say what it is or what to do about it. In 
fact, the question of pornography is so tied up with other 
American anxieties that court decisions can only affirm that 
"obscenity is not a technical term of the law and is not 
susceptible of exact definition." 37 The barrage of court deci- 
sions over the past 50 years has effectively precluded Customs 
from excluding all but the most clear cut pornography. These are 
limited to materials involving sadomasochism, bestiality, excre- 
tory functions, or children. 

New Horizons: Customs and the Fight Against 
Child Pornography 

There is one issue in the pornography debate, however, about 
which there is no confusion and one to which the Customs 
Service has brought its accumulated authority, experience, and 
interdepartmental contacts. That issue is child pornography. 

Efforts to stem the production and distribution of child 
pornography date back to the 1974 Federal Child Abuse Preven- 
tion and Treatment Act. This law defined sexual abuse as "the 
obscene or pornographic photographing, filming or depiction of 
children for commercial purposes, or the rape, molestation, 
incest, prostitution or other such forms of sexual exploitation of 

36 Philip Shenon, "Sturm und Drang und Pornography," New York 
Times, April 15, 1986; and "Has the Porno Panel Written a Bestseller?" 
Washington Times, May 27, 1986. 

37 "Meese Proposal Seeks Stricter Legislation Against Pornography," 
Wall Street Journal, October 23, 1986; Philip Shenon, "Meese, in a Move on 
Pornography, Creates Special Prosecution Team," New York Times, October 
23, 1986; Edwin McDowell, "Pornographic Material: Should It Be 
Outlawed?" in ibid., October 16, 1986; and Arthur I. Demcy, How to Cope 
With United States Customs (Dobbs Ferry, New York: 1976), p. 121. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

children under circumstances which indicate that the child's 
health or welfare is harmed or threatened thereby." 38 The 
Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation Act of 1977 
sought to eradicate child pornography by making the essential 
links in its chain of production, distribution, and sale matters of 
criminal intent. Under this act, anyone creating such materials 
for interstate or foreign commerce — including consenting or 
aware parents — is liable to fines and imprisonment. The law also 
made it illegal to receive books, magazines, or films of this 
sort. 39 

In 1984, having found that child pornography had developed 
into a multimillion-dollar, highly organized national industry 
that took advantage of thousands of runaway and homeless 
young people whose "physiological, emotional, and mental 
health" are endangered by it, Congress passed the Child Protec- 
tion Act. This law raised the age of majority from 16 to 18; 
dropped the requirement that the material had to be intended for 
sale to be contraband; and, most important, made the sugges- 
tion (rather than the reality) of sexual activity enough for a 
violation. Receiving these publications could now cost the 
consumer a $100,000 fine and 10 years in prison. The new act 
also strengthened Customs' authority to enforce its provisions, 
increasing agents' power to confiscate suspected pornography or 
its proceeds and to turn violators over to the Justice Department 
for prosecution. 40 

It was welcome legislation for the Customs Service. In 1983, 
clergy attending a meeting at the White House persuaded 
President Reagan to ask Customs Commissioner William von 
Raab to look into the matter. Investigations of pornography 
networks in general led agents and inspectors to the specialized 

38 42U.S.C. 5101. 

39 18 U.S.C. 2251; Al Kamen, "Pornography Case Appeal Is Rejected," 
Washington Post, April 22, 1986. 

40 P. L. 98-292, Child Protection Act of 1984, May 21, 1984; Rita 
McWilliams, "Senate Subcommittee Told U.S. Top Child-Porn Market," 
Washington Times, November 30, 1984. 


Customs and Pornography 

child pornography trade almost by chance. Once the size of the 
problem became apparent, many more agents volunteered for 
the project, many of them working on their own time. 41 In 
October 1985 their efforts were coordinated under the Child 
Pornography and Protection Unit in the Customs Service. 

The unit is still discovering the size of the market. The United 
States appears to be the world's largest consumer of child 
pornography; by late 1986 the unit had identified more than 
20,000 Americans who had ordered magazines like Nympho 
Lover, Joy Boy, and Lolita. It also began to link these readers 
with other crimes against children. The Customs Service's War 
on Pornography, begun as a crusade against a particularly 
odious form of obscenity, has become a wide-ranging federal law 
enforcement program against sexual exploitation of children in 

The Child Pornography and Protection Unit relies heavily on 
cooperation with other federal agencies, primarily the FBI and 
the Postal Service, as well as local police and district attorneys. 
Many seizures are made in Customs' regular venues; pornogra- 
phy is smuggled in among legitimate merchandise by air, sea, or 
truck, or tucked under the dirty laundry and guidebooks in a 
traveler's suitcase. 

Most pornography enters the country through the mails, 
however. Americans receive more than 921 million pieces of 
international mail each year, some 200 million of them from 
nations like the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, and Thailand, 
which Customs has tagged as major sources of child pornogra- 
phy. Mail from these countries is reviewed, and any parcels and 
envelopes suspected of containing contraband are opened and 
examined. Their suspicions are confirmed in about one of 40 
cases. After analyzing the content and source of the material 
they find, agents make controlled deliveries to the addressee. 

41 Mary Thornton, "Customs Service Leads War on Child Pornography," 
Washington Post, August 9, 1986; "Commissioner's Round Table: Pornog- 
raphy," Customs Today, vol. 20; no. 4 (Winter 1986), p. 7. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Once the mail has been accepted, agents obtain warrants to 
search the premises for the confirmation of criminal activity. 

Often they find much more. "Executing search warrants at 
the residences of importers of child pornography, special agents 
frequently find photographic and written evidence which con- 
firms that these individuals have a long and detailed history of 
acting out their perverse fantasies by preying on or molesting 
children in their community." Customs agents participate in task 
forces, forming partnerships with federal, state, and local police 

One controlled delivery involving federal and local coopera- 
tion, for example, unearthed more than 150 pounds of child 
pornography at the home of a fifth-grade teacher. The stash 
included 2,760 photographs of boys between nine and 1 1 years of 
age, 32 videos depicting child pornography, an extensive collec- 
tion of letters to other boy-lovers, and records of contacts with 
young boys. While searching the home of Atlanta psychiatrist 
Charles Markham Berry after a controlled delivery of European 
child pornography, agents and police found secret drawers 
stuffed with photographs and videotapes of preadolescent boys 
engaging in sex with each other as well as with Berry. They also 
found a photo studio complete with floodlights and stuffed 
animals, a computer file with a list of names and descriptions of 
other boys Berry had known and a manuscript chronicling his 
adventures. Agents also frequently find mailing lists of other 
pedophiles, lists that are likely to contain the names of teachers, 
doctors, lawyers, clergymen, camp counselors, and day care 
workers who exchange children and pornography through an 
underground network. 42 

Controlled deliveries and search warrants often lead to cases 
for the U.S. or local attorneys to prosecute under federal or state 

42 Oral interview with Donald J. Grattan, Director, Child Pornography 
and Protection Unit, U.S. Customs Service, February 23, 1989; Thornton, 
Washington Post, August 9, 1986; Regional Commissioner, Chicago, Weekly 
Management Brief, File M AN- 1 -02-PA CLM, September 25, 1986, Archives 
of the U.S. Customs Service, Washington, D.C. 


Customs and Pornography 

law. 43 The choice of jurisdiction depends on which law gives 
customs the stronger case and which agencies are most cooper- 
ative. A case in Oklahoma, for example, was tried under the 
state possession law instead of the federal receipt law. 44 

Cooperation is not always forthcoming. Local police may 
feel their territory is being invaded by T-men. Even U.S. Attor- 
neys in different parts of the country have different responses to 
Customs' antipornography efforts. Justice Department represen- 
tatives in the Southern states may support the Customs Service 
action with warrants, investigations, and prosecutions on the 
basis of one obscene magazine, whereas attorneys in large cities 
put less emphasis on pornography prosecutions. 

To counteract this discrepancy Customs has begun to collect 
hard data with which to support its cases. A master list of 
seizures, search warrants, and offenders, along with a library of 
confiscated materials, makes it possible for agents asking for 
warrants to convince the judge about what they expect to find. 
The goal is to equalize enforcement across the country. 45 

Customs efforts to stop child pornography are not limited to 
American soil. Agents in Europe and Asia often negotiate with 
foreign customs and other foreign government officials. They 
also work with local police in other countries to stop pornogra- 
phy at its source by identifying and having arrested major 
producers and distributors. Commissioner von Raab, for exam- 
ple, depending on the international collegiality of customs 
officers, gave Swedish customs officials the addresses of several 
pornography factories, which the Swedish agents were able to 
close; he has also lobbied to persuade foreign governments to 
tighten their pornography laws. 46 

43 Regional Commissioner, New Orleans, Weekly Management Brief, File 
MAN-l-V: RC LAM, October 2, 1986, Archives of the U.S. Customs 
Service, Washington, D.C. 

^Regional Commissioner, Southwest, Weekly Management Brief, File 
MAN-1-04-RC: LCS, August 18-22, 1986, in ibid. 

45 Customs Today, vol. 20; no. 4, pp. 13-15. 

46 Ibid., pp. 11, 13; William von Raab, interview with author, March 13, 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Customs agents sometimes go undercover to capture their 
quarry. In January 1985, customs agents ordered photo sets from 
a supplier in Bangkok as part of a continuing program of 
keeping up with what's new in packaging, mailing, and contents. 
This particular distributor wrote long, chatty letters to his 
customers, and the practice gave the agents an idea for gaining 
entry to his operation. Posing as avid collectors, agents Ray 
Martinez and Jack O'Malley offered to "broker his product 
commercially and domestically." The Thai merchant, Manit 
Thamaree, was intrigued enough by the offer to invite them to 
Bangkok, promising to provide them with whatever children or 
drugs they wanted. He also sent a sample of his merchandise. 
When the agents realized that these photographs were similar to 
those in the European Lolita magazines — even down to the same 
striped sheets on the beds — they asked Tom Winker, the U.S. 
Customs attache in Bangkok, to approach Thai authorities 
about making an arrest. 

Martinez and O'Malley traveled to Thailand in August 1985; 
met with Manit; and, when he once again offered them the 
pictures, arrested him. His files have since led authorities to 
clients all over the world and have provided the evidence for four 
arrests in the United States. One of his American clients, in fact, 
published Manit's work in a magazine called The Lewis Carroll 
Collector's Guild.* 1 

Domestic agents work undercover, too, of course. In one case 
a customs man posed as a pornography distributor. By consent- 
ing to undergo wiretap surveillance, he was able to record the 
defendant's statements of intent to sell pornographic publica- 
tions he obtained in Europe. 48 

How effective have the Customs efforts been? Some agents 
report that the European market is drying up and that new laws 
have taken Lolita out of the porn shops and have forced 

Customs Today, vol. 20; no. 4, p. 14; Joseph de Rienzo, "Child Sex 
Slaves: A Booming Trade," The Nation, August 15, 1986. 

48 U.S. v. Adams, Shingaki et al., Federal Reporter, Second Series, vol. 
694 (St. Paul: 1983), pp. 200-03. 


Customs and Pornography 

distributors to use false addresses to confuse investigators. Less 
"junk" now crosses our borders, and customs investigations 
have put a lot of child molestors behind bars. But at the same 
time, the North American Man Boy Love Association newsletter 
regularly advises its readers about how to smuggle child pornog- 
raphy past customs inspectors. The service remains committed to 
the program nonetheless. Officers are often so personally dedi- 
cated to it that few can put in more than three years on this 
assignment without suffering mental distress and burnout. Both 
Commissioner von Raab and former Attorney General Meese 
have expressed great satisfaction with Customs' successes and 
expect them to continue even after a new administration takes 
over in Washington. 49 

The offensive against child pornography in part represents 
Customs' efforts to reclaim some of the autonomy that has been 
wrested from it during the 20th century as well as the agency's 
ability to apply its historical border authority to a new menace. 
Federal organization and reorganization during Prohibition and, 
more recently, the war on drugs, has limited Customs' authority 
and initiative in seizing contraband and forced the agency to 
share the limelight and its resources with other agencies. The 
child pornography issue is an elegant illustration of what has 
been called the theory of Bureaucratic Adaptability, which posits 
that organizations change their jobs — redefine their missions, 
that is — according to perceived threats to their integrity. 50 In this 
case, the Customs Service, its drug enforcement duties subsumed 
under the Drug Enforcement Administration and its obscenity 
crusade shared with the Postal Service and the Justice Depart- 
ment, has identified a problem to which other agencies have paid 
scant attention and claimed it for its own. 

This work has proved to be important. In contrast to other 
kinds of pornography, it is impossible to defend the sexual 

49 Customs Today, vol. 20; no. 4, passim; Washington Post, August 9, 

S0 For a fuller discussion of this subject, see Allan R. Millett, Semper 
Fidelis (New York: Free Press, 1982). 


The U.S. Customs Service 

exploitation of children, and so Customs can count on much 
support from the President, the press, and the public. Customs 
officers maintain that there is a causal link between child 
pornography and criminal behavior although the jury is still out 
on this question. 51 But organized sexual abuse of children does 
create a grim market for kidnapped youngsters. The Customs 
Service has been able to take advantage of the tenor of the times 
and has parlayed a general concern with the morals and safety of 
American youth into a program the Commissioner expects to 
continue into the indefinite future. 52 Emphasizing the moral 
component of an old trade regulation has thus returned to the 
Customs Service some of the centrality, autonomy, and status it 
enjoyed in the early days of the nation. 

in The 

Influence of Pornography on Behavior, ed. by Maurice Yaffe and Edward C. 
Nelson (New York: 1982), p. 36. 

52 Customs Today, vol. 20; no. 4, p. 35. 


Chapter XI 

During the course of this century the Customs Service has 
been called on to enforce federal laws regarding alcohol, drugs, 
and pornography while pursuing its mission to protect the 
nation's revenue. The changing nature of war and the inexorable 
march of technology have also defined the agency's role in 
modern times. Customs agents and officers have guarded the 
nation's ports against enemy attack and ensured the primacy of 
its defense systems. They have looked after its economy by 
foiling attempts to steal American technology and know-how. 
And at the same time their mission, reflecting America's place in 
the global community, has expanded to encompass a vital role in 
enforcing foreign policy. 

Customs in World War I 

On August 1, 1914, the sabers that had been rattling all over 
Europe for years were finally drawn. As nation after nation 
readied itself for battle, Americans watched in horror and 
nervously assured one another that the physical isolation of the 
United States and its traditional aversion to entangling alliances 
would keep them spectators, not participants, in this war. The 
country could not, however, simply ignore the quarrel. As soon 


The U.S. Customs Service 

as the first guns had boomed across Belgium, President Wilson 
and his Cabinet readied a proclamation of neutrality which they 
hoped would meet the administrative and ethical ramifications 
of not getting involved. While virtually every federal depart- 
ment, agency, and bureau was called on to help the country keep 
its distance, it fell to the Treasury Department to enforce, and to 
the Customs Service to administer, the provisions of the Neu- 
trality Act of August 5, 1914. 

The act determined the direction that Customs would take 
throughout the war. The day after its publication, port officers 
around the country turned their staffs into a valuable "shore and 
border auxiliary" to conventional military forces. From then on, 
customs agents thoroughly searched the documents and cargo of 
all merchant vessels in their districts, demanding full and final 
manifests from all foreign-bound ships before granting any 
clearances. Officers also reported the movements of all ships of 
the warring nations and wired the Treasury Department when 
they noticed any of them attempting to leave port without a 
regular clearance or to change status from merchantman to 
armed vessel. Customs men locked the radio equipment of 
belligerent ships entering port and unlocked it upon departure. 
Warships could not take on coal or other supplies without the 
collector's permission, and boarding officers made sure any 
weapons on merchant steamers were "for defensive purposes 
only." Customs officers also sealed the hatches; certified the 
manifests declaring that ships entering the war zone were not 
carrying contraband; and checked, collected, or canceled the 
passports of returning U.S. citizens. In short, Customs became 
the eyes and ears of a country anxious to protect its neutrality. l 

These new duties would have proved impossible without extra 
personnel. Newly appointed deputy collectors in every port scram- 
bled to find workers for their newly established Neutrality Bureaus. 

1 "Report of War Work at the Port of New York by the United States 
Customs Service, 1914 to 1919;' unpublished manuscript in the Archives of 
the U.S. Customs Service, Washington, D.C., pp. 1-5; New York Times, 
January 5, 1915. 


Customs in War and Peace 

In New York City alone, a core of 30 employees quickly expanded 
to include 40 inspectors, 10 guards, and 4 clerks who watched the 
piers, checked the ships, inspected visas, and kept tabs on the 
export orders of the local manufacturers of steel, boats, and 
munitions. Bureau employees supervised the loading of the Belgian 
relief vessels and other ships to make sure that no other nation 
would sink them on the pretext that there was contraband aboard. 
The Neutrality Bureau also assumed responsibility for the machin- 
ery and munitions purchased by German, Dutch, Russian, Span- 
ish, and Scandinavian firms but impounded by the United States 
because of the war; nearly $100 million worth of materiel was 
warehoused in New York City alone. Customs officers thus not 
only kept these weapons from belligerent powers but also helped 
the government stockpile the guns and supplies against the time the 
United States entered the war. 

Beefed-up customs patrols also tracked the movements of 
warships in U.S. coastal waters. It was not the cruisers that 
worried them so much as the German submarines, which 
stealthily destroyed even neutral shipping in the North Atlantic. 
U-boats were not, in fact, uncommon, nor was their threat 
imaginary. For instance, at 3 p.m. on Saturday, October 7, 1916, 
Newport, Rhode Island's Deputy Collector Wolcott notified the 
Narragansett Naval Station that a German sub had entered 
Newport Harbor. When the Navy replied that it was U-Boat 53 
and it would depart within 24 hours, Wolcott alerted the 
collector at Providence and the Office of Naval Intelligence in 
Washington, and then set up a special patrol. He himself went on 
watch after closing his office and saw the submarine depart at 
5:10. The next afternoon he learned that the British freighters 
Strathdene, West Point, and Kingston; the Dutch freighter 
Bloomersdyk; the Norwegian freighter Christian Knudsen; and 
the British passenger liner Stephano—a\\ had been sunk by the 
U-boat while it cruised just beyond the three-mile limit. 2 

2 Deputy Collector Wolcott to Collector at Providence, October 10, 1916, 
"Letterpress Books Containing Letters Sent by the Collector, Deputy Collector, 


The U.S. Customs Service 

The everyday work of customs officers in the Neutrality 
Bureau, however, was rarely very exciting or even straightfor- 
ward. Questions, confusions, and false alarms were far more 
likely to disrupt a working day than the sight of a German 
periscope peeking above the whitecaps. How, for example, 
should customs officials levy duties on goods whose value rose 
and fell daily with the fortunes of war? Exactly which documents 
needed the stamps called for by the War Revenue Act of October 
22, 1914? If Customs had no authority to prohibit shipments, 
what could it do about war supplies laded in the United States 
and sent under a false manifest to a belligerent nation, thereby 
compromising U.S. neutrality? 3 

But the most vexing problem of all was how to define 
contraband, those strategic materials that could not be trans- 
ported to any warring power without risk of being seized on the 
high seas. To be sure, military materiel was always contraband, 
as was gold en route to a nation at war. Household items like 
soaps and cotton, in contrast, were never considered war goods. 
But there was a long list of conditional contraband with which to 
reckon. Food for both man and beast, clothing and boots, 
money, vehicles and vessels, railroad materials, fuels, horse tack, 
instruments, explosives, telecommunications equipment, and 
"balloons and flying machines and their component parts" 
might be allowable one week and forbidden the next, depending 
on where they were going and who needed what. The conditional 
list gave customs officers chronic headaches. Could an exporter 
send overcoats to Spain? Was that shipment of rubber really 
going to a Swedish tire factory or to the Kaiser? Should all 
French or German orders for shoes be sent first to a neutral 
country and then to the purchaser to avoid seizure? To compli- 

and Custodian, Newport, Rhode Island, to Various Sources, May 1881 -May 
1918;' vol. 1916-1918. Bureau of Customs Record, Record Group 36, Federal 
Records Center, Waltham, Massachusetts; "Report of War Work" p. 10. 

3 New York Times, October 6, 1914; Deputy Collector Wolcott to 
Collector at Providence, January 15, 1915, "Letterpress Books, vol. 
1914-1916," Bureau of Customs Records, RG 36, Federal Records Center, 
Waltham, Massachusetts; New York Times, August 6, 1914. 


Customs in War and Peace 

cate things further, both the Allies and the Central Powers 
reserved the right to reclassify anything without notice. 4 

The Customs Service got its first sign of relief in January 1915. 
To protect their ships and goods, all exporters from the United 
States now had to file affidavits listing the exact contents of each of 
their shipments and then have them verified by port officials. The 
Customs Service was in charge of certifying these contraband-free 
cargoes, first in Savannah and then in other ports. These measures 
proved of minimal use. Neutral merchantmen still fell victim to 
U-boat assaults. In February 1916, the government tried another 
tack; it required exporters to file a special Shipper's Export 
Declaration in order to send goods to foreign countries or "non- 
contiguous territories of the United States." 5 

Continued depredations of North Atlantic shipping, the 
strains of remaining neutral in a world at war, and mounting 
internal pressure for military preparedness kept pushing the 
United States toward the conflict. By March 1917, Germany had 
sunk five American merchant ships, and Wilson's Cabinet was 
ready to go to war. So was Congress, and on April 6, 
1917 — Good Friday — the President signed the document that 
would send the doughboys "over there." 

Customs had already begun preparing itself and its ports for 
war. New York Collector Dudley Malone acted on his own initiative 
and closed the port after the Germans announced their renewal of 
submarine warfare earlier that year. He ordered the patrols assigned 
to watch the war-bound German and Austrian ships for signs of 
sabotage, and to watch the crew of those ships as well. In early 
February 1917, Malone doubled the neutrality guard in his port and 
instituted strict customs and immigration checks for any crew 
member seeking to spend a night on the town; soon after, he 
withdrew all customs inspectors stationed on idled German ships. 6 

4 New York Times, August 1, 1914, p. 3. 

5 Ibid., January 15, 1915; "Report of War Work," p. 5. 

6 Malone was being generous to these crewmen; in Philadelphia and other 
cities they were confined to their ships. See the New York Times, February 1, 
5, and 11, 1917. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

On April 3, 1917, Secretary of the Treasury McAdoo in- 
structed the collectors that, upon receiving a telegram containing 
a particular code word, they were to seize all German and 
Austrian ships in their ports and hold them until further notice. 
Malone put 500 employees on alert, lined up reinforcements 
from the Army and Navy and from the Justice and Labor 
Departments, and began his vigil. 

On April 6, as the House of Representatives debated the 
declaration of war, Malone stayed at his desk. Across the water 
on Governor's Island, the soldiers of the 22nd U.S. Infantry 
"slept on their guns awaiting the signal." Six hundred customs 
men stood silently at the piers, with New York City police and 
detectives on the streets just beyond. In the dark harbor, 
destroyers of the Atlantic fleet rode quietly at anchor. And 
aboard the Vaterland, the Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Barbarossa, 
and their sister ships, the Germans, too, waited for Congress to 
stop talking. 7 

McAdoo's coded telegram reached the customhouse at 3:44 
a.m. on April 7. By dawn the Customs Service had taken 27 
ships, interned 1,100 men on Ellis Island as enemy aliens, and 
impounded 6,000 pieces of luggage, as well as several pets. "A 
very stout steward from the Vaterland had a big cat in his arms," 
reported the New York Times, "one of his mates led a small 
fluffy black and white dog on a string, and another man carried 
a big Congo parrot, gray with a pink tuft." 8 

The same scene was played out at other U.S. ports, with 
different results. Inspectors found arms aboard ships at Balti- 
more but hardly anyone or anything at Philadelphia. German 
crews in New London, Connecticut, disabled their ship rather 
than have it confiscated, while their counterparts in San Juan 
harbor opened the seacocks and sank their vessel. Boston may 
have provided the most drama that night. The purser of the 
Amerika, forced on deck in the predawn drizzle clad only in his 

7 "Report of War Work;' p. 21; New York Times, April 7, 1917. 
8 New York Times, April 7, 1917. 


Customs in War and Peace 

pajamas, threw his hands up and cried to the customs patrol: 
"Kill me here as well as send me to be killed out there!" 9 

The work did not end when the last German ship had been 
taken. Customs crews stayed on duty searching for seamen who 
were ashore that night; inventorying and appraising the valuable 
paintings, furnishings, fittings, liquor, and ship's stores left 
aboard; removing all perishable articles for public auction; 
directing the swarm of engineers, electricians, and shipwrights 
who almost immediately began to convert the vessels into troop 
and supply carriers; watching for theft; and forwarding baggage. 
German translators in the Customs Service even pored over the 
crews' personal correspondence "to ascertain if it contained 
matter of interest and importance to the Government." 10 

Although the declaration of war increased Customs' cooper- 
ation with the Departments of Labor, Commerce, and War, it 
also multiplied the agency's duties across the board. Officers and 
inspectors now supervised the war risk insurance programs, for 
example. But perhaps the most far-reaching change was in export 
control. Customs already enforced the various export tariff 
provisions and requirements and kept an eye out for arms and 
ammunition headed for Mexico, Central America, and Europe. 
Now, however, Customs had to make sure the food, supplies, and 
strategic information it sent overseas went to its own troops and 
not to the enemies'. 11 

To do this the government legislated what could and could 
not be shipped abroad and to whom. The Espionage Act of June 
15, 1917, gave the President "full power to control all exports." 
The Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce issued the 
licenses permitting the export of foodstuffs, arms, fertilizers, 
and fuels. Customs enforced the law: Title VII, section 3, of that 
law "authorized and empowered" the collector of customs of 
any district to refuse clearance and forbid the departure from 

9 lbid 


Report of War Work," pp. 22-23. 
'Ibid., pp. 26-27. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

port of any vessel he believed to be "about to carry out of the 
United States any article or articles in violation of the provisions 
of this title." The collector could also impose the full penalty for 
moving such a ship: a $10,000 fine, two years' imprisonment, or 
both, plus the forfeiture to the United States of the "vessel, her 
tackle, apparel, furniture, equipment, and her forbidden 
cargo." 12 

Enforcing the law was less simple than it might seem. On top 
of having to keep track of ever-changing market prices for 
almost all commodities and having to know which class of 
merchandise was to be handled by which specialist, customs 
agents now had to be familiar with the names of nations and 
seaports around the world, and to know the contents of the 
shifting contraband and license lists, too. Things did not get any 
easier once Congress began to refine its new export laws. In 
September it forbade all wheat shipments to any neutral nation, 
added both metals and chemicals to the proscribed list, and 
added a few more countries to the license list. In early October 
the Trading With the Enemy Act specified still more contraband 
items, while empowering the government to censor all regular 
mail and to seize all enemy property. 13 

The demands of the Espionage and the Trading With the 
Enemy Acts taxed the Customs Service's organization and 
manpower in every port. Intensive ship searches and careful 
scrutiny of passengers and crews drained personnel from other 
vital customs chores. To keep all operations going smoothly, New 
York's new collector Byron R. Newton formed a War Port 
Squadron in December 1917. Led by the chief of the Neutrality 
Squad, the deputy surveyor who ran the Searching Squad, and a 
local special Treasury agent, this unit's only responsibility was to 

l2 New York Times, July 9, 1917; "Report of War Work;' p. 27; and 
William Franklin Willoughby, Government Organization in Wartime and 
After (New York: 1919), p. 121. 

13 "Report of War Work," p. 32; New York Times, September 17 and 
October 6, 1917; Willoughby, Government Organization, pp. 45, 140; and 
William H. Futrell, The History of American Customs Jurisprudence (New 
York: 1941), p. 58. 


Customs in War and Peace 

carry out the provisions of the new acts, leaving other officers to 
handle regular customs business. In February 1918, the organi- 
zation became part of the Customs Intelligence Bureau. Because 
its 260 members, recruits, or volunteers from other customs 
offices still could not handle the volume of war work, in April 
the Treasury Department permitted the hiring of 300 more 
temporary employees. 14 

The Customs Intelligence Bureau did not open new fields of 
operation but coordinated and extended existing ones; in es- 
sence, it replaced the prewar Neutrality Board. It was run like a 
military unit; its members underwent rigorous training. A senior 
officer conducted drills on the roof of the New York Custom- 
house or in a nearby armory, putting the recruits through hours 
of "setting up exercises, formation and marching by squad and 
platoon, instruction and exercises in climbing wooden, iron and 
rope ladders [and] in other tests of agility, such as may be 
necessary in the work of boarding and searching vessels, and in 
the use of small arms." The curriculum also called for lectures in 
"War Geography, Construction of Ships, Searching of Ships, 
Mustering of Crews, Examination of Baggage, Invisible Writ- 
ings, Explosives and Bombs, and Prohibited Articles." The 
result of all this training was a special force in which every 
member agreed "to conduct himself as a gentleman, to be 
interested in his duty and faithful in its discharge, and to obey all 
rules and regulations and orders issued by competent authority." 
Each member also agreed not to own any vessels, take bribes, 
"lend money at usurious rates," or gamble, drink, or smoke 
while on duty. 15 

The Bureau's mission was a broad one. Its principal indoor 
activity was the censorship of nonmail communications. In this 
it cooperated with the Customs Censorship Bureau, whose 
translators and inspectors reviewed sketches, notes, phonograph 
records, photographs, and motion pictures for sensitive infor- 

"Report of War Work;' p. 74. 
Ibid., pp. 99, 108, 109. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

mation and enemy propaganda. Most intelligence work was 
outdoors, however. The specially uniformed agents boarded and 
searched vessels, verified their stores, controlled and examined 
departing passengers and crews to make sure no valuable goods 
or information left the country, and enforced other U.S. laws 
along the way. 16 

There were specialists in the bureau, of course: The men in 
passenger control had to be multilingual; the communications 
crew had to be able to recognize the varieties of secret writing 
powders that spies favored — and their hiding places for the 
blank pages. Members of the information unit kept the bureau's 
databank, recording and indexing reports of violations of the 
law, checking incoming crew and passenger lists for suspects, 
and preparing the looseleaf suspect books — alphabetical listings 
of suspicious people and ships — which they distributed to cutter 
crews every day. Some intelligence inspectors had to be jewelers, 
too. In order to protect American reserves, the government 
allowed no one to take gold or silver coins out of the country. 
While customs officials and the Federal Reserve Bank willingly 
exchanged coin for paper, the inspectors began to notice that 
many of their customers had taken to wearing bracelets, neck- 
laces, and watch chains hung with unmutilated coins. Inspectors 
soon obtained "suitable instruments" and became skilled at 
quickly stripping the glittering "charms." 17 

During its year of operation in New York, the Customs 
Intelligence Bureau searched 5,271 ships and mustered 4,799. It 
uncovered hostile aliens, smuggled jewels, and unpaid income 
tax. Yet for all its accomplishments, it was not the only office to 
shoulder extraordinary duties during the war. Appraisers, far 
from being idled by the wartime drop in trade, opened their 
laboratories for testing the quality of medical and surgical 

Ibid., p. 204. For more on passenger control, see "Records Related to 
Other Departments Within the Collector's Office, 1851-1940, Intelligence 
Division Reports re: Passengers 1918-1919;' RG 36, U.S. Bureau of Customs, 
Port of San Francisco, Federal Records Center, San Bruno, California. 
17 "Report of War Work," pp. 95, 82. 


Customs in War and Peace 

supplies for the Army, Navy, and Red Cross. Although more and 
more of their colleagues were drafted, other agents kept up with 
myriad new duties such as issuing the war zone passes that 
protected the piers from unauthorized visitors, or filing reports 
for the War Trade Board, the Shipping Board, and the War Risk 
Insurance Board. 18 

They also joined the work of preventing "the importa- 
tion ... of any article of an inimical nature" into the country, 
often heroically. On January 30, 1918, for example, Naval 
Intelligence warned collector Newton that a shipment of wheat- 
destroying pollen was steaming for New York aboard the S.S. 
Nieuw Amsterdam. Newton immediately arranged for more than 
200 officers to search the 1,500 passengers, their 7,500 pieces of 
luggage, and the rest of the ship and its cargo (which included 
among other things 2,000 boxes of flowers and 400 cases of 
bulbs). For three days agents carefully checked out every bit of 
paper, clothing, medicine, soap, even toothpaste, looking for the 
deadly dust. Fortunately, their frantic efforts yielded no "poi- 
sonous pollen." 

Other agents literally risked their lives on their jobs. News of 
a deadly flu virus prompted customs officers to start fumigating 
ships and passengers arriving from Spain in July 1918. By 
August, as reports of thousands of deaths across Europe 
mounted, they physically checked each ship for influenza vic- 
tims. Many agents ultimately contracted the disease 
themselves. 19 

The signing of the armistice did not lighten Customs' 
burden. Large quantities of goods, warehoused during the war, 
suddenly made their way across the seas again, and stranded 
tourists scrambled to find their way home. Even the Army added 
to the Customs workload. During the war the military had 
handled its own imports and exports without supervision by 

18 Ibid., pp. 71, 90-90. 

19 Ibid., pp. 62, 76; New York Times, February 8, July 3, and August 19, 



The U.S. Customs Service 

Customs agents. Once hostilities ceased, however, Customs 
resumed control and charged the War Department duty on goods 
it brought back from active service. The Army protested that it 
was "embarrassing" that it should have to pay duty to its own 
government on European-made goods that they had contracted 
for and used overseas. The Customs Service, looking coolly at 
the more than $600 million worth of clothing and supplies the 
American Expeditionary Force alone had sent home, insisted on 
the tax: There was so much materiel, they argued, it was very 
likely that some of it would wind up in surplus stores — in direct 
competition to U.S. -made goods. 20 

Customs in World War II 

World War II was essentially a replay of World War I for the 
Customs Service. The nation again remained neutral as the war 
began, and again its neutrality was characterized by quirky 
decisions; in 1939, for instance, President Roosevelt allowed 
belligerents to purchase U.S. arms on a cash-and-carry basis even 
as he called for a voluntary "moral embargo" on all airplane 
parts and raw materials for Japan. Customs again received 
neutrality enforcement powers and patrolled the harbors and 
cleared cargoes while taking Red Cross first aid courses and 
learning the art of self-defense. After Pearl Harbor, the Presi- 
dent took control of all exports, and the Treasury Department 
once again began distributing lists of prohibited and restricted 
items. 21 

In the ports the collectors reactivated the Communications 
Control Sections to sift through the films, photographs, records, 

U.S. Congress, House, 68 Cong., 1st Sess., Hearings Before the 
Committee on Ways and Means re Remission of Customs Duties on Certain 
War Department Property (Washington, D.C.: 1924), passim. 

21 Emily Rosenberg, Spreading the American Dream (New York: 1982), p. 
186. Customs activities can be followed through the New York Times; see 
September 6, November 7, November 26, December 5, 1939; and May 25, 
September 28, 1941. 


Customs in War and Peace 

and magazines that did not arrive in the mail pouches. The 
Enforcement Division again searched vessels for violations of 
customs laws and the presence of safety hazards; and the Ships' 
Statistics Units compiled the daily reports on the movement, 
size, and tonnage of vessels in the harbor that helped the 
government track war supplies. They instituted Ships' Stores 
Control Units to check the rations aboard merchant, troop, and 
Navy ships, as well as on airplanes. Foreign Funds Control Units 
regulated foreign cash transactions and foreign-owned property, 
enforced the limits on the amount of cash passengers could bring 
into the country, and inspected all gold, diamonds, art, and 
stamps for their use as "a subterfuge for the transfer of funds" 
or "a means of message conveyance" by enemy agents. Every 
hour of every day customs agents went through luggage; checked 
passports; made sure that no one who was not supposed to 
boarded or left a quarantined ship; and, as New York Collector 
Harry M. Durning proudly observed, "maintained a 24-hour 
vigil in each district headquarters." 22 

Customs in the Cold War 

During the two world wars, Customs served as a backup to 
the government's conventional pursuit of victory. In both wars 
the United States faced known enemies, made and followed 
battle plans based on historical precedents and contemporary 
objectives, and equipped its fighting men with recognizable 
implements of war. The Cold War has not been fought the same 
way, however. Not only has the distinction between friend and 
foe been blurred, but so has the definition of weaponry. In this 
anxious age of belligerent peace, the Customs Service has 

22 For a description of war work in New York, see Harry M. Durning, 
"Directory of War Time Activities Within Collection District No. 10, Port of 
New York" (July 1, 1943), Archives of the U.S. Customs Service, Washing- 
ton, D.C. For more general information, see Treasury Department, U.S. 
Bureau of Customs, Manual For the Guidance of the Outside Force of the 
Customs Service (Washington, D.C: 1942, 1943), Library of Congress. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

accepted some of the responsibility for protecting the nation 
from the very real threats of nuclear conflict. 

One of the most straightforward ways the Service has done 
this is by enforcing the 1976 Arms Export Control Act. This law 
gives the President control over imports and exports that may 
"contribute to an arms race, increase the possibility of outbreak 
or escalation of conflict, or prejudice the development of 
bilateral or multilateral arms control arrangements." The pro- 
scribed list includes arms, ammunition, implements of war and 
the technical data and assistance to support them. Authorization 
derives from legislation dating back to the 1947 National 
Security Act and includes the 1979 Export Administration Act as 
well. The government has increasingly relied on Customs to 
"detect, interdict, and/or investigate . . . illegal international 
trafficking in [those] arms [and] munitions." 23 

U.S. concern with international arms sales has a long history. 
An 1825 law allowed the Secretary of War to sell outdated 
weapons, and by the end of the Civil War both public and private 
buyers regularly bid on damaged ordnance "otherwise unsuit- 
able" for military service; obviously, the definition of "un- 
suitable" depended on who needed what when. By 1872, when 
the nation earned itself more than $16 million supplying arms to 
both parties in the Franco-Prussian War, some citizens had 
begun to realize the diplomatic potential of such sales. They were 
certainly keenly aware of their economic potential, however, and 
profit remained the main motive for arms brokering until well 
into the 20th century. In World War I, after all, U.S. made guns 
boomed from both sides of no-man's land. Only recently have 
diplomatic and peacekeeping considerations become a greater 
priority than bolstering the balance of trade by indiscriminately 
peddling instruments of death and destruction. 24 

23 22USCA§ 2778, United States Code Annotated (St. Paul: 1987); US. 
Customs Service, "Mission and Organization" (Washington, D.C.: c. 1983), 
Archives of the U.S. Customs Service, Washington, D.C. 

24 James Harlan, "Speech Delivered in the Senate of the United States, 
February 28, 1872, Regarding the Sale of Arms to French Agents, and Alleged 
Custom-House Frauds^' (Washington, D.C, 1872), Library of Congress. 


Customs in War and Peace 

Unfortunately, public policy and private practice do not 
always coincide, and entrepreneurs have kept the Customs 
Service very busy indeed. Private arms sales are certainly not 
forbidden by law. In 1986 the State Department's Office of 
Munitions Control, which must approve the sale and resale of 
U.S. -made arms abroad, licensed 4,000 arms dealers who did 
$14.9 billion worth of government-approved business. But the 
office employed only seven people to review that year's 49,000 
arms export applications, and only three to monitor the dealers' 
activities. With such understaffing it is hardly surprising that 
customs investigators have estimated illegal munitions sales at 
"many tens of millions of dollars a year, at the very least." 
Opportunities for private, unlicensed enterprise are boosted by a 
Defense Department inventory problem. Some Pentagon offi- 
cials guess that "$900 million worth of arms, electronic compo- 
nents, spare parts and other military equipment and supplies 
disappeared in 1986" from U.S. bases and warehouses around 
the world. A study called Operation Retread, completed that 
year by Customs and Defense Department personnel, confirmed 
these "losses" and assessed the dangers in the widespread 
diversion of those weapons to unfriendly nations. 25 

Those are the arms deals the Customs Service investigates 
with a great deal of success. For example, customs agents' work 
led to the arrest of an owner of Texas Armament Advisors in 
Brownsville, Texas, who had arranged to sell parts of F-4 fighter 
and C-130 cargo planes to Iran. Customs agents posing as 
international arms dealers who could fill even the most sophis- 
ticated shopping lists netted a Philadelphia man who was 
plotting to send navigational beacons for fighter planes to Syria, 
transport planes to Libya, and computer technology to East 
Germany. Other customs personnel stopped the smuggling of 
seven U.S. military helicopters and 4,477 spare parts to Iran, and 

25 New York Times, April 23, 1986, February 12, 21, 1987; U.S. Customs 
Service, Operation Exodus Quarterly Newsletter, Issue No. 2, Attachment no. 
1 (Washington, D.C.: no date), p. 5, Archives of the U.S. Customs Service, 
Washington, D.C. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

rounded up 17 men from six Western nations ("brokers of death 
who operated a terrorist flea market" was the way Customs 
Commissioner William von Raab described them) who were 
selling more than $2 billion worth of tanks, missiles, and 
warplanes to the Ayatollah's army. 26 

Sometimes customs work goes well beyond ordinary police 
work. In one complicated investigation, Special Agents David 
A. Wright and Walter Kiniry set up a dummy arms corporation 
in Buffalo, New York, to attract unlicensed dealers. Within days 
of their "going into business" the two men were taking orders for 
millions of dollars' worth of highly sophisticated weapons from 
eager customers in West Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. 
That not all of the merchandise was legally available did not 
bother either the brokers or the buyers, and soon shoppers were 
flying to Buffalo to see the newest NATO rifles, M-60 machine 
guns, and TOW missiles before negotiating a price. 

The first fly to be caught in Customs' web was Stephen 
Reiter, the son of a West German family of arms dealers. When 
he arrived to pay $2.3 million for the 4,000 M-16's he had 
ordered, federal officials arrested him. In return for leniency, 
Reiter agreed to find more clients for the customs sting. He 
recruited Heinz Golitschek, a failed clothing manufacturer from 
Vienna who hoped to recoup his fortune by providing 10 Huey 
Cobra AH-1 helicopters for Iran. Golitschek, too, found only 
handcuffs waiting for him in Buffalo. 27 

Wright and Kiniry kept their Esak Enterprises going even 
after Golitschek 's arrest in order to interdict more of the 
hardware that crosses and recrosses international borders under 
forged licenses and end-user certificates. They and others like 
them have made steady advances against the illegal arms trade, 
and have recovered millions of dollars' worth of guns, lasers, and 

26 For further details about these cases, see New York Times,, January 4, 
1987; Washington Post, November 27, 1986; Washington Times, April 23, 
May 23, and November 27, 1986. 

27 Buffalo News, February 16 and March 4, 1986; Wall Street Journal, 
September 5, 1986. 


Customs in War and Peace 

airplane parts while working under an umbrella enforcement 
program code named Operation Exodus. Begun in October 1981 
in response to a Reagan administration push to stop the transfer 
of strategic U.S. technology to Eastern bloc nations, Exodus 
concerns itself with both the hardware and the software of 
weapons systems. Relying on cargo inspections, special investi- 
gations, and overseas support, Exodus operatives also look out 
for goods or services that may not appear on the Munitions List 
but nevertheless can be considered "militarily critical." 28 

To help identify these items, Customs relies on the decisions 
of the Department of Commerce, which licenses technological 
exports, and the Department of Defense, which reviews the 
Commerce Department rulings. Defense personnel use more 
than the Commodity Control List and the Munitions List to 
guide their deliberations. They also consider the complexity of 
an item's design and production; determine whether it uses 
keystone manufacturing, inspection, or test equipment; check 
whether it requires sophisticated operation, application, or 
maintenance support; and question whether its export would 
"reveal or give insight into the design and manufacture of a U.S. 
military system." The political sympathies and nuclear capabil- 
ities of the target nation also color the Pentagon's decisions. 29 

This second level of review, although arguably essential for 
national security, does not make it any easier for Customs to 
know what it can and cannot allow out of the country. Neither 
does the widespread confusion over what really constitutes 
critical technology. The Commerce and Defense Department 
criteria are fairly simple to apply to gun sights and detonators, 
but harder to interpret for "dual-use items" like computers and 
scientific papers, which have both civilian and military applica- 

28 The U.S. Customs Service has a variety of brochures, fact sheets, 
posters, advisories, and reports explaining and summarizing the activities of 
Operation Exodus, all of which are available from the Exodus Command 
Center in the Service's Washington, D.C., headquarters. 

29 Wall Street Journal, January 21, 1987, Washington Post, February 5, 
1987; 50 USC § 2404, United States Code Annotated, (St. Paul: 1987), vol. 
50, Cumulative Pocket, p. 343. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

tions. The current definition of critical technology is open-ended 
and slippery: 

the classified and unclassified nuclear and non-nuclear 
unpublished technical data, whose acquisition by a po- 
tential adversary could make a significant contribution, 
which would prove detrimental to the national security of 
the United States, to the military potential of such 
country, irrespective of whether such technology is ac- 
quired directly from the United States or indirectly 
through another recipient, or whether its declared end- 
use by the recipient is a military or non-military use. 
This "anything is possible" standard put Texas Instruments' 
"Speak & Spell," which is readily available in toy stores from 
coast to coast, on the controlled list, because it contained an 
embedded microprocessor that might drive military defense 
systems when it was not coaching children in spelling. 30 

Without constant, clear guidance as to what really constitutes a 
critical export, the Customs Service sometimes finds itself in an 
ambiguous environment. Such responsibility sits well with Com- 
missioner von Raab, who during his tenure has transformed 
Exodus from a reactive to a proactive program. Whereas before 
"the U.S. acted only in those cases that literally sprang up and hit 
us in the face [and] we responded only when somebody jumped out 
of the bushes and yelled: 'Here I am, ha ha, arrest me,' " explained 
von Raab in 1985, "today, we're out looking for the problem." To 
do so he has assigned more agents to Exodus and commissioned 
them to carry on domestic investigations, to "penetrate dummy 
corporations and thwart their operators," and to develop a useful 
profile of those dealers and brokers supplying the Soviet Union 
with American equipment and expertise. 31 

30 Steven D. Overly, "Regulation of Critical Technologies Under the 
Export Administration Act of 1979 and the Proposed Export Administration 
Amendments of 1983: American Business Versus National Security!' North 
Carolina Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulations ', vol. 10 
(1984), p. 423, n. 2; Time, June 17, 1985, p. 28. 

3f C/.S. News& World Report, August 12, 1985, p. 39. 


Customs in War and Peace 

Much of Customs' work in this area is far from glamorous. 
Exodus teams check for export licenses and seize the shipments 
lacking the necessary permits, thereby netting the government 
everything from oil-field drilling equipment to hard-disk drives. 
They are nothing if not conscientious, preferring to be safe than 
sorry: In July 1982, agents interdicted $400,000 worth of 
U.S. -made computers in West Germany, insisting that they were 
strategically important machines en route to the Soviet Union, 
even though the exporter explained that the computers were 
several years old and "as significant strategically as ... a 
Dodge Dart." 32 

Other cases do require Exodus agents to play James Bond. 
The April 1987 indictment of three men who conspired to sell 
more than $1 million worth of computers, chips, and interface 
systems for the Soviet IBM-clone Ryad computers was the result 
of months of undercover and surveillance work in the United 
States and Panama. Other operatives cracked a smuggling ring 
that was buying the latest electronic gear from firms like Hughes 
Aircraft and diverting it through Switzerland to Bulgaria or 
through Hong Kong to China. Exodus also relies on customs 
attaches abroad both to supply information about smugglers 
and to secure the cooperation of their host governments; in 
November 1983, Swedish customs honored a U.S. request to stop 
three containers of U.S. -made computer parts from leaving the 
free port of Helsingborg for the Soviet Union. 33 

Exodus prides itself on having cornered some of the world's 
greatest "techno-bandits," although catching them has often 
proved impossible. For example, in 1983 the Los Angeles 
customs office began investigating defense contractor Richard 

32 Regional Commissioner, Chicago, Weekly Management Brief 
MAN-1-02-EMS-KP, May 1, 1986, p. 2, Archives of the U.S. Customs 
Service, Washington, D.C.; Regional Commissioner, Northeast, Weekly 
Management Brief MAN- 1-0: 1C, November 6, 1986, p. 2, Archives of the 
U.S. Customs Service, Washington, D.C.; New York Times, July 15, 1982. 

33 Los Angeles Times, April 4, 1987; Journal of Commerce, April 7, 
1987; New York Times, February 3, 1987; Wall Street Journal, November 11, 
1986, and January 15, 1987. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Smyth. Smyth's offices had been robbed of several thousand 
dollars' worth of computer hardware and software, and Smyth, 
fearing that some classified government documents had also 
been taken, dutifully reported the theft to the FBI. The Customs 
Service came along with its own search warrant and began 
digging. After two years, agents had proof that Smyth and an 
accomplice had obtained more than 800 krytons (electronic 
timing devices that can trigger almost anything from strobe 
lights to nuclear devices) and smuggled them to Israel. Indicted 
in May 1985, Smyth jumped bail three months later. Although 
the Customs Service has since recovered more than half the 
krytons, Smyth remains a fugitive. 34 

One who did not get away, however, was Werner Bruch- 
hausen, a West German electronics engineer who, between 1975 
and 1985, sold more than $10 million worth of U.S. high 
technology to the Soviet Union. From his mansion outside 
Munich, Bruchhausen directed the dummy corporations that 
bought, sold and shipped the equipment, some of which was so 
secret that U.S. allies still knew nothing about it. Bruchhausen's 
employees provided the Soviets with an entire factory to improve 
their computer microchip production and with U.S. military 
communications equipment to help them monitor the move- 
ments of NATO forces. Although he had been indicted for these 
activities in August 1981, Bruchhausen was not arrested until he 
tried to enter Britain with a false passport in May 1985. Charged 
with a long list of offenses by the U.S. government while still in 
Bow Street prison, he was extradited to the States in June 1986, 
where he was convicted of 15 counts of wire fraud the following 
February. Although Bruchhausen continued to direct his net- 
work from his jail cell, the Customs Service rejoiced in the 
capture "of one of the most important members of a small 

34 "Customs Counts Export Control Successes;' Department of the 
Treasury News, December 31, 1985, Archives of the U.S. Customs Service, 
Washington, D.C.; Washington Post, October 31, 1986; US. Customs 
Service, Operation Exodus, Summary of Significant Export Cases (no date), 
Archives of the U.S. Customs Service, Washington, D.C. 


Customs in War and Peace 

fraternity of shady characters who handle most of the transfers 
of forbidden technology to the Soviet Bloc." Commissioner von 
Raab pointed out the true significance of the arrest in a letter 
urging a stiff prison term for the culprit: Bruchhausen's impris- 
onment did not close a damaging technological break as much as 
it showed "the world that the United States will not passively 
accept such violations and that no entrepreneur is 
untouchable." 35 

An Ever-Widening Mission 

If the Customs Service has been part of the nation's war 
efforts throughout the 20th century, it has also been an instru- 
ment of foreign policy. Even before the end of World War I, 
Washington strategists had realized the wider applications and 
effects of the trade laws the Customs Service enforces. Secretary 
of Commerce William Redfield informed his audience at a New 
York City Automobile Club luncheon in October 1917 that "the 
peaceful power of commerce is one of the United States' most 
powerful weapons against Germany. . . . We must not depend 
on our army alone," he warned., "to prevent our enemies from 
having access to our resources." The next year the New York 
Times proclaimed that "Treaties And Tariffs Will Be the New 
Weapons " explaining to its readers that trade wars and Govern- 
ment policy would help U.S. business gain economic supremacy 
of the postwar world. 36 

The political benefits of these weapons were also grasped. 
President Roosevelt used the Trade Agreement Act of 1934 to 
reduce the duties on Cuban sugar, less to aid the island's 

35 The Bruchhausen case was extensively covered in the press. See, for 
example, USA Today, May 10, 1985; New York Times, May 10, 1985; 
Washington Post, June 14, 1986, January 28, 1987; and Los Angeles Times, 
January 28, February 21 , and April 3, 1987. See also the Press Packet for May 
9, 1985, prepared by the Customs Service, located in its archives in Washing- 
ton, D.C. 

36 New York Times, October 17, 1917, and September 29, 1918. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

economy than to encourage the establishment of a government 
more sympathetic to U.S. interests there. This assumption that 
our economic clout can force concessions from foreign powers 
persists today. Customs currently enforces sanctions against 
several nations for many reasons, among them "crime control, 
human rights, and anti-terrorism." The Customs Service makes 
sure that only authorized goods go to North Korea, Vietnam, 
Kampuchea, Cuba, Libya, or Iran, and that only certain items 
go to or come from the Soviet Union. 37 

These trade restrictions are perhaps more symbolic than 
useful; some government officials have conceded that they are 
not always worth their cost. Prohibiting the export of oil and gas 
equipment to the Soviets to protest the invasion of Afghanistan 
hurt Houston more than it did Moscow; seizing imports of 
Soviet-produced chess sets, television cabinets, and tea did not 
free any dissidents from the gulags; and putting an embargo on 
certain South African minerals — and then, realizing that they 
were essential to "strategic American security interest," sud- 
denly lifting that ban — did not create racial harmony in 
Johannesburg. 38 

Nor are the sanctions universally welcomed. The Customs 
Service has found itself "the catcher in a javelin contest . . . 
[getting] it from every angle." Scientists, scholars, and engineers 
complain that the export rules for critical technology "impede 
the development of [that] technology" along with impeding its 
flow. The government's approach, they argue, is tantamount to 
"shooting ourselves in the foot," because it also prevents Warsaw 
Pact nations from sharing their discoveries with the United 
States. Business people cry that the government is restricting free 

37 Rosenberg, Spreading the American Dream, pp. 179-81; Benjamin H. 
Flowe, Jr., "Export Licensing of Computer Equipment and Technology — A 
Practitioner's Perspective^ North Carolina Journal of International Law and 
Commercial Regulations, vol. 10 (1985), pp. 640-41. 

38 Kenneth W. Abbott, "Linking Trade to Political Goals: Foreign Policy 
Export Controls in the 1970s and 1980s;' Minnesota Law Review, vol. 65, no. 
5 (June 1981), p. 797; Newsweek, January 26, 1987, p. 38; New York Times, 
March 19, 1984; and Washington Times, January 20, 1987. 


Customs in War and Peace 

trade and that closing off markets means fewer sales and fewer 
jobs, and ultimately the loss of the country's economic vitality. 
At the same time some people insist that the government is not 
being strong enough. 39 

Despite the complaints, enforcing these sanctions to imple- 
ment foreign policy has become another facet of Customs' 
mission. Although it might seem that this has moved the 
Customs Service away from the Treasury Department and closer 
to the Department of State, these defensive responsibilities are 
really part of the agency's long-standing commitment to guard 
more than the revenue. Arms and technology are the focus of 
national fears in this last quarter of the 20th century, just as new 
immigrant stock, alcoholic beverages, narcotic drugs, and im- 
moral literature frightened earlier generations. As it has before, 
Customs is using its broad powers to continue to protect the 
nation and its citizens. 

39 Gary Waugh, interview with author, U.S. Customs Service, Washing- 
ton, D.C., July 16, 1987; Wall Street Journal, May 10, 1985, and February 5, 
1987; Washington Times, January 15, 1987. 



By Stuart P. Seidel 

When I began my Customs career in New York City in 1969, 
Customs was operating in much the same way as it had during 
the preceding 180 years. 

Although there were no longer any Presidentially appointed 
collectors or appraisers (those offices were abolished in 1965), 
several persons who had held those positions were still employed 
by Customs as regional commissioners or district directors. The 
Customs Service had only 9,500 employees, not many more than 
the 8,800 or so it had in the 1880's despite a growth in trade and 
commerce. Vessels were still boarded in mid-stream and inspec- 
tors still kept lookout lists on slips of paper tucked in their caps. 
Customs officers dutifully checked invoices and bills of lading 
against the manifests. Customs (special) agents were members of 
the Customs Agency Service, an organization merged with the 
Division of Customs in 1927 to form the Bureau of Customs, but 
which still had an independent field organization under an 
Assistant Commissioner for Investigations. 

But things were beginning to change. Customs was experiment- 
ing with a computerized lookout system at border points and 
Congress had appropriated funds for an air wing. (Ironically, 
Customs had had one of the first government air units in the 
1930's, but it had been disbanded.) A study was being conducted to 
determine if computerization of Customs commercial activities 
were possible. The stage was set. In the next 20 years, Customs 
would undergo a major transformation. It would expand, not only 
in resources, but also in responsibilities and new programs. 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Customs ranks increased in the early 1970's with the addition 
of approximately 1,200 "air security officers," or sky marshals 
as they were more commonly called, to handle the rash of 
aircraft hijackings to Cuba. These officers inspected outbound 
baggage, and flew undercover on most foreign flights between 
1971 and 1974. The expertise developed by Customs in the 
outbound baggage examinations came in handy when the out- 
bound currency and export programs were activated in the 
mid-1970's and early 1980's respectively. But Customs officers 
were not satisfied with looking for and seizing illegal exports or 
undeclared funds. The seizures or discoveries were followed by 
lengthy investigations in the United States and abroad, to 
determine the source and routing of the funds or the real 
destination of the illegal export. These overseas investigations 
were frequently aided by Customs many mutual assistance agree- 
ments and the cooperation of Customs' foreign counterparts. 

High-speed air transportation and other modern advances 
have expanded trade and lowered international barriers. This has 
led to an increase in cooperation between customs agencies 
around the world in both enforcement and commercial opera- 
tions. The U.S. Customs Service has entered into Customs 
Mutual Assistance Agreements with a number of countries and 
the United States is a signatory to several multilateral conven- 
tions sponsored by the international Customs Cooperation 
Council. As a result, American Customs officers frequently 
work with their foreign counterparts in money laundering inves- 
tigations, export cases, value inquiries, drug detection, and the 
recovery of stolen art and artifacts. Preclearance inspectors in 
Canada, Bermuda and the Bahamas work closely with their 
foreign associates and frequently testify in foreign courts. The 
United States and Canada have opened a joint border station 
and others are planned. Members of the Royal Bahamas Defence 
Force accompany U.S. Customs officers on vessels and aircraft 
operating in the U.S. -Bahamas corridor. The United States 
Customs Service has trained over 10,012 officers from 114 
different countries. 



No study of the United States Customs Service would be 
complete without at least a brief discussion of where the 
Customs Service is going. Chapter XI discusses Customs' efforts 
to stem the illegal flow of high technology out of the country. 
Customs must not only prevent other countries from illegally 
obtaining high technology, it must learn to use high technology 
itself. Smugglers in this day and age are no longer satisfied with 
simply concealing contraband in commercial shipments, they are 
using the structural frames of the containers and sophisticated 
hidden compartments built into vessels and aircraft. Smugglers 
now use high-speed jets and ocean racers. Legitimate importers 
can no longer wait months for their shipments; they need their 
inventories immediately. 

The United States Customs Service has become a leader in 
the use of high technology in both its enforcement and commer- 
cial endeavors. It developed a computer network for ports of 
entry in 1969 known as CADPIN (Customs Automated Data 
Processing Intelligence Network), which freed the Customs 
officer, at last, from putting paper lookout lists in his cap. It 
linked the ports of entry with lookout lists, criminal history 
information and warrants and led to the development of the 
TECS (Treasury Enforcement Communications System) network 
which is used not only by the U.S. Customs Service, but also by 
the other Treasury law enforcement agencies. In the 1980's, 
TECS evolved into an integrated enforcement network that 
served as a source of information, generated reports, interfaced 
with the Automated Commercial System (ACS), and tied into 
computer networks operated by the Drug Enforcement Admin- 
istration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Federal 
Aviation Administration, to name a few. 

Customs air interdiction program, which was resurrected in 
1968, now has nearly 100 aircraft and uses state-of-the-art radar 
technology and infra-red imagery to meet its specialized needs. 
The aircraft range from fixed-wing propeller-driven craft to jets 
and Blackhawk helicopters. Recent additions include sophisti- 
cated radar planes. Aerostats developed by the military (sta- 


The U.S. Customs Service 

tionary radar balloons tethered to the ground with 10,000 feet of 
cabling) feed information into Command, Control, Communi- 
cations, and Intelligence centers (C 3 I). Similar operations and 
equipment are used in the Blue Lightning Operations Centers 
(BLOC) for vessel detection. The BLOC in Richmond Heights, 
near Miami, for example, receives radar images of vessel traffic 
from the Bahamas and Florida coasts and can relay computer- 
generated information to any of the local, state, or federal 
members of the Blue Lightning Strike Force via the sophisticated 
Customs Over the Horizon Radio Network (COTHEN). 

Customs R&D teams and contractors have also been devel- 
oping license plate readers for remote unmanned border crossing 
areas and a variety of high-tech instruments which would detect 
drugs in cargo, baggage, and container frames. 

After 200 years of processing paper import documents, 
Customs realized that it would not be able to keep up with the 
expansion of worldwide trade unless the agency automated its 
commercial operations. Unfortunately, the job was complicated 
by several factors: Some members of the trade community had 
already begun to automate their operations, but not all aspects 
of the trade community were using similar or compatible 
computer languages. The laws Customs operated under were 
written in a paper era when all merchandise was looked at and 
different countries had different definitions and requirements. 
Customs began to computerize its commercial operations a piece 
at a time. After testing, the piece or "module" was integrated 
with the other "modules" and eventually ACS was created. At 
the same time, Customs worked with the trade community, its 
foreign counterparts, and the United Nations to support a 
common international computer "language" in which different 
systems, anywhere in the world, could communicate with each 
other. The result was EDIFACT, the Electronic Data Interface 
for Administration, Commerce, and Transportation. 

With EDIFACT, a U.S. company can electronically order 
products from a German company. The same electronics prepare 
an invoice and perhaps a bill of lading, which is then electron- 



ically transmitted to the carrier who adds information to create 
an electronic manifest. The invoice and entry information is 
transmitted to the broker or importer who electronically files it 
with Customs. ACS matches the information with the auto- 
mated manifest and bill of lading information which it received 
from the carrier to ensure the accuracy of the shipping informa- 
tion, the classification (against its built-in Harmonized System 
Tariff Schedule data base), the bond and surety information 
against its bond and surety files), and decides whether to inspect 
the shipment or release it. Selectivity data has already been 
matched against other shipments and enforcement information, 
supplied by Customs or any of the nearly 100 other agencies for 
which it enforces laws. The ACS system has truly revolutionized 
the way Customs and the import community do business. 

Customs legal operations will not be left behind. The Office 
of Regulations and Rulings has begun to automate its rulings for 
ease of retrievability by import specialists, customhouse brokers, 
and government and private attorneys, and the system will be 
integrated into ACS. Both the Offices of Regulations and 
Rulings and Chief Counsel have full access to commercial 
automated legal research tools. Attorneys at headquarters and in 
the field can communicate electronically with each other and 
legal documents which formerly took weeks to prepare and mail 
can be drafted and transmitted electronically in hours or even 
minutes. The yellow legal pad, while still visible on attorneys' 
desks is giving way to the computer terminals which are now 
essential tools of every Customs attorney. 

The 15,000 Customs officers still bring in $18 for every dollar 
spent. User fees pay for many Customs' commercial activities, 
while forfeited currency and property pay for some of the 
agency's enforcement activities. The Customs Service is probably 
the most cost-effective agency in the U.S. government. 


Appendix I 

Although the Customs Service was created on July 31, 1789, by an Act 
of Congress, it was not until 1849 that President Zachary Taylor created 
the office of "Commissioner of Customs." From 1849 until 1894, the 
Commissioner acted as an auditor of Customs officials' accounts. At no time 
during this period did his activities include overall administration of the 
Customs Service or of its officers. 

Then in 1 875 the Congress gave Customs some degree of independence 
from the Secretary of the Treasury by creating a "Division of Customs," 
headed by a "Chief," whose office ran parallel with that of the 
Commissioner. In 1923 the Division Chiefs title was changed to "Director." 
This, in turn, was abolished on March 3, 1927 and the modern era of the 
Office of the Commissioner of Customs was ushered in. 


Commissioners of Customs 

Charles William Rockwell 

Hugh Johnston Anderson 

Samuel Ingham (1857-1861) 
Nathan Sargent (1861-1871) 
William T. Haines (1871-1873) 
Henry Clay Johnson (1874-1884) 
John Swayze McCalmont 

Samuel V. Holliday (1889-1893) 
William Henry Pugh (1893-1894) 


Office created March 3, 1875 
Abolished March 3, 1927 

Henry B. James (1871-1875) 
W.F. Clarke (1875-1879) 
Henry B. James (1879-1885) 
James G. Macgregor (1885-1893) 
John M. Comstock (1893-1899) 
Andrew Johnson (1899-1903) 
John R. Garrison (1903-1905) 

James L. Gerry (1905-1909) 
Charles P. Montgomery 

Frank M. Halstead (1911-1919) 
George W. Ashworth (1919-1922) 
Ernest W. Camp (1922-1923) 
Ernest W. Camp, Director 



(1927- ) 
Commissioners of Customs 

Ernest W. Camp (1927-1929) 
Francis Xavier A. Eble 

James Henry Moyle (1933-1939) 
Basil Harris (1939-1940) 
William Roy Johnson (1940-1947) 
Frank Dow (1949-1953) 

(Acting, 1947-1949) 
Ralph Kelly (1954-1961) 
Philip Nichols, Jr. (1961-1964) 
Lester D. Johnson (1965-1969) 
Myles Joseph Ambrose 

Vernon Darrell Acree (1972-1977) 
Robert E. Chasen (1977-1980) 
William von Raab (1981- ) 

Appendix II 

Administratively, the U.S. Customs Service is divided into seven regions, 
supervising 45 districts that in turn oversee some 300 ports of entry. U.S. 
Customs also has preclearance facilities in the Bahamas, Bermuda, and Can- 

Overseas, U.S. Customs maintains offices in U.S. embassies or consulates 
in Bangkok, Bonn, Dublin, Hermosillo, Hong Kong, London, Mexico City, 
Milan, Monterrey, Ottawa, Panama City, Paris, Rome, Tokyo, Seoul, Singa- 
pore, Vienna, and The Hague. An attache represents U.S. Customs in the 
U.S. Mission to the European Communities in Brussels. 


• J -~9 — ■ ■ . < <y~s>r>- i.t>\ 

RIVER ' ll 





















Included in 











GUANICA /jobos' 

.Included in 



Adams, Henry 62, 160, 163 
Adams, John (Presidential 

administration of) 38, 44-46, 

48, 64, 66 
Adams, Sam 15-16, 30 
administration, 299, lack of 

manpower 2-3, 26, 71-73, 76, 

80, 120, 175-176, 203, 206, 

214, 282 
Afghanistan 296 
Africa 109, 245 
agents, special, secret, etc. (see 

Alabama (see also by city and 

town) 123, 256, 265 
Alaska 200-201 
Albany, New York 6-7, 203 
Alburg, Vermont, 75-76 
alcohol, abuse of 19, 63, 225, 

285, smuggling of 195-215 

(see also Prohibition), illegal 

distillation of 48 
Alexandria, Virginia 54-56, 

Allen, Ethan 254 
American Board of Customs 

Commissioners (colonial) 1, 

14-23, 28, 30, 34 
American Civil Liberties Union 

259, 264, 266 

American Revolution (see also 

Continental Army, Society of 

the Cincinnati) 1-34, 35-36, 

39-41, 48, 65-67, 80, 83 
American Temperance Union 197 
Angel Island, California 174, 

177-178, 189 
Anslinger, Harry J. 247 
Anti-Saloon League 197-198 
Antrobus, Isaac 34 
Apache Indians 224 
appointments to office (see 

appraisers of merchandise (see 

Arizona (see also by city and 

town) 189-190 
Arms Export Control Act (1976) 

Arthur, Chester Alan as Collector 

of Customs 158-161, as 

Vice-President 162, as 

President 160, 162-164 
Articles of Confederation (see 

also Confederation Era) 

Athens, Georgia 124 
Atherton, G.W. 109 
Atlanta, Georgia 124 
Atlantic City, New Jersey 205 
Austin, Arthur W. 253 
Austria 290 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Automated Commercial System 

(ACS) 301, 302, 303 
automation 299, 301, 302, 303 

Bahamas (see West Indies) 

Bainbridge, William 77 

Ballard, Robert 52-53 

Baltimore, Maryland 38-39, 47, 
51-54, 72-74, 77-78, 80, 
127-129, 131, 136, 167-168, 
221, 259, 262, 280 

Bancroft, George as historian 
107, 115, as Collector of 
Customs 107-108, as 
Secretary of the Navy 108, 114 

Barker, James Nelson 115 

Barney, Hiram 138-141, 149 

Barrett, P.H. 224-225 

Baumann, Herbert 238-239 

Beall, Samuel 133 

Beaufort, South Carolina 93, 
133, 139 

Becker, Judith V. 266 

Belgium 229, 230, 278-279 

Bell, Josiah 133 

Benbury, Thomas 60-61 

Bermuda 300 

Bernard, Francis 6, 8-10, 14-16, 
18, 20 

Berry, Charles M. 270 

Beverly, Massachusetts 29 

Birmingham, Alabama 265 

Bishop, Abraham 81 

Blacks (see also slavery) and 
American Revolution 9, and 
Embargo of 1807 78, and 
slave trade 85-86, and slavery 
89, as freedmen 139, and 
drug enforcement 227-228 

Blair, John 26 

Blair, William 220 

Board of Trade, English 2, 6, 
21-22, 30, 32, 34 

Bohemia, Maryland 33 

Bolivia 238, 240 

Boston, Charlie 226 

Boston, Massachusetts 1, 3, 11- 
23, 24, 28-32, 39-41,44,46, 
65-67, 74, 76, 121, 126, 135- 
136, 137, 144, 168-169, 207, 
221, 230, 238, 253, 257, 258 

Boston Tea Party 29-30, 32 

Botetourt, Norbone 26 

Boyd, Alexander 49 

Breathitt, George 91-92 

Brewer, George N. 260 

Brice, John 74 

Briggs, Charles E 115 

British Customs Service 1-34 

Brooks, Noah 115 

Brosius, Marriott 169 

Browne, J. Ross 115 

Brownsville, Texas 289 

Bruchhausen, Werner 294-295 

Bryan, William Jennings 228-229 

Bryant, William Cullen 113-114 

Buffalo, New York 290 

Bulgaria 293 

Bureau of Narcotics and 
Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) 

Burger, Warren 265 

Burt, Silas W. 160, 162, 165 

Bush, George (as Vice President) 

Butler, Pierce 65 

Byrne, Robert 33 

Cadwalader, John 168 
Cairns, Huntington 262 



Calhoun, John C. 88 
California (see also by city and 

town) 137, 144, 155-156, 

166-167, 171-193, 208, 

221-222, 224, 228, 229, 230, 

239, 253, 293 
Cambell, David 32-33 
Cambrelang, C.C. 100 
Camden, North Carolina 59-60, 

Cameron, Donaldina 185-188 
Campbell, Johnny 205 
Canada 70, 75-76, 82, 135, 137, 

172, 188-192, 199, 203-204, 

215, 224-225, 244, 300 
Canadian Pacific Railroad 

Canadian Pacific Steamship 

Company 190 
Central America 136-137, 281 
Cerf, Bennett 261 
Chamier, Daniel 22 
Chan Choy 187 
Chan Yoke 187 
Charleston, South Carolina 13, 

26-27, 31, 65-67, 86-94, 221 
Chase, Salmon P. (Treasury 

Secretary) 122, 125, 127-131, 

134-141, 145 
Chee, Charlie 191-192 
Chesapeake Bay ports 12, 26, 

57-59, 128-129 
Chew, Beverly 85 
China 173-174, 176-178, 190, 

223, 230, 234, 243-244, 293 
Chinatown, San Francisco 

Chinese Bureau, U.S. Customs 

Service 175-176 
Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 

170-175, 177, 179-181, 188, 


Chinese immigrants and Customs 

(see also women, slavery) 

Christie, Gabriel 73-74 
Chu Gang 176 
Chun Ying, 187 
Cincinnati, Ohio 122, 127 
Civil Service Commission (see 

also Pendleton Act) 158, 

civil service reform 157-170 
Civil War 117, 119-141, 143, 

145, 171-172, 187, 220, 255, 

Cleveland, Grover (Presidential 

administration of) 170 
Coast Guard (see U.S. Coast 

Cobb, Howell (Treasury 

Secretary) 123 
Cockle, James 6 
Collectors of Customs (see 

Commissioners of Customs 97, 

99, 119, 124-125, 248-249, 

268, 271, 289-290, 292, 295 
Comstock, Anthony 255-256, 257 
Confederate Customs Service 

124, 132-134 
Confederate States of America 

119, 123-128, 130-137, 145 
Confederation Era (1780's) 

35-36, 39,47,48, 51, 61, 65 
Conkling, Roscoe 158-160 
Connecticut (see also by city and 

town) 33, 62, 80-81, 84, 280 
Constitution, U.S. (see U.S. 

Continental Army 36, 39-41, 43, 

48, 51, 54, 65 
Coolidge, Calvin (Presidential 

administration of) 211 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Cooper, Charles P. 123, 132-133 
Cooper, Thomas Abthorpe 115 
Corinth, Mississippi 134 
corruption 2, 4-5, 6, 17, 43, 47, 

57, 95-105, 138-140, 143, 

146-157, 159, 210-211 
Cottle, Walter P. 253 
Cotton, Charles 131 
Crawford, William H. (Treasury 

Secretary) 39 
Cross, Ralph 43 
Cross, Stephen 42-44 
Cuba 82, 93, 135-137, 230, 

295-296, 300 
Culbertson, Margaret 185 
Curtis, Edward 104 
Customs Automated Data 

Processing Intelligence 

Network (CADPIN) 301 
Customs Cooperation Council 300 
Customs Mutual Assistance 

Agreements 300 
cutters, revenue 37, 45, 80-81, 

90-91, 98, 126, 206,214 


Darling, William A. 152-153 
Davidson, H.R. 224 
Delany, Sharp 47-48, 51 
Democratic Party 92, 96-117, 156 
Democratic-Republican Party 

(see Jeffersonian Republican 

Denmark 269 
Detroit, Michigan 203 
Dixon, Henry F. 128 
Doggett, Timothy 8 
Dolliver, Peter 41 
Drug Enforcement Administration 

(DEA) 236-242, 245-246 
drugs (see substance control) 

Duluth, Minnesota 217 

Dumfries, Virginia 57 

Durning, Harry M. 233, 263, 287 

Eastport, Mississippi 133 

Eaton, Benjamin 41 

Edenton, North Carolina 59-61 

Elbert, Samuel 78 

Electronic Data Interface for 
Administration, Commerce, 
and Transportation 
(EDIFACT) 302 

Elizabethtown, Kentucky 131 

Ellery, William 82 

Elliot, Andrew 33 

El Paso, Texas 213, 237 

Embargo of 1807 69-86, 126 

enforcement (see also U.S. 
Constitution, merchants, 
administration): appraisers of 
merchandise and 121-122, 
144-145, 150, 152-153, 
154-155, collectors and 6-11, 
12-13, 17, 18-22, 26-27, 28, 
30, 31-34, 38-39, 42-44, 
46-67, 72-75, 77, 79-83, 89, 
91-92, 99-104, 128-130, 133, 
135-137, 138-141, 149-151, 
153-154, 156, 158-159, 
160-162, 165, 175-177, 182, 
187-188, 211-212, 213, 221, 
225, 233, 253, 258, 279-280, 
282, 285, naval officers and 
37, 90-91, 98-99, 105, 154, 
160-162, 165, surveyors and 
33, 37, 48, 52-53, 60-61, 65, 
107-117, 129-130, 131,226, 
special agents and 98, 106, 
120-121, 122-124, 145, 176, 
184, 186, 187, 192, 200, 201, 



206, 232, 269-273, 289-290, 
under officers and 17-19, 22, 
24, 29, 37, 40-41, 49-51, 81, 
120-121, 126, 148-149, 
151-152, 166, 181, 203-204, 
208, 210-211, 224-226, 
238-242, 247, 276-277, 
280-281, 283, 285, 286-287, 
299, 300, 301 Constitutional 
questions and 88, 125-127, 
186-187, 195, 251, 258, 
260-261, 263, 264, 265-266 
lack of government support 
and 7-11, 20-22, 81, 82-83, 
175-178, 195-196, 210-211, 
214, 233, 247, 272, and 
intelligence operations 32, 
91-92, 129, 192, 200, 
231-232, 236, 241, 273, 
283-284, 289-293, offshore 
35-36, 37, 45-46, 70, 75, 
80-81, 119, 212-213, 
215-216, 239-240, 245, 277, 
and use of force 15-16, 29, 
78-80, 88-94, Commissioners 
of Customs and (see 
Commissioners of Customs, 
and by name) 

enforcement of Prohibition (see 
alcohol, Prohibition) 

Espionage Act (1917) 281 

Fairfield, John 108 

Fall Pine, Maryland 129 

Falmouth, Massachusetts 24 

Fauquier, Francis 13 

Federal Aviation Administration 

Federal Bureau of Investigation 

(FBI) 241, 242, 301 

Federal Child Abuse Prevention 
and Treatment Act (1974) 267 

Federalist Party 41-67, 70, 74, 80 

Fitzgerald, John 54, 56 

Florence, South Carolina 124 

Florida (see also by city and 
town) 70, 135, 167, 205-206, 
219, 239, 241-242, 302 

Folger, Charles J. (Treasury 
Secretary) 223 

Folly's Landing, Virginia 72 

Foss, H.L. 224 

France 48, 69, 202, 207, 221, 278 

Franklin, William 7 

Freeland, Alexander 63 

Freeman, Thomas D. 60 

Freud, Sigmund 227 

Gage, Thomas 19-21 
Gallagher, William Davis 1 1 5 
Gallatin, Albert (Treasury 

Secretary) 46, 60, 62-67, 

69-86, 91, 97 
Garfield, James A. (Presidential 

administration of) 162-163 
Gelston, David 83 
Germany 221, 230, 238, 277-281, 

289, 290, 293, 294 
Georgetown, South Carolina 93 
Georgia (see also by city and 

town) 2, 11-12, 33-34,75, 

78, 124, 133, 196, 198, 279 
Godkin, E.L. 148, 150, 160 
Golitschek, Heinz 290 
Goodrich, John Z. 135-137 
Graff, John 50 
Grant, Ulysses (Presidential 

administration of) 143, 

145-146, 151, 153, 160-161 
Gray, William 123 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Great Britain 1-34, 69-71, 87, 

202, 215, 221, 254, 263, 294 
Great Egg Harbor, New Jersey 

63, 82 
Greeley, Horace 159 
Grenville, Lord 4 
Grinell, Moses H. 149-151, 

Grundy, Felix 100 
Guiteau, Charles 162-163 
Guthrie, James (Treasury 

Secretary) 106, 120 


Hague, The 243, 244 
Hallowell, Benjamin 11 
Hallowell, Robert 19-21 
Hamilton, Alexander (Treasury 

Secretary) 35, 38-40, 42, 44, 

52-54, 97 
Hamilton, James (South 

Carolina) 89, 93-94 
Hamilton, James A. (New York) 

Hancock, John 18-20, 26 
Hanson, Samuel 55 
Hardwick, Georgia 133 
Harmon, Bill 206 
Harney, Larry 152-153 
Harper's Weekly 157, 159-160 
Harrington, George 124 
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 169 
Harrison, Joseph 18, 20-22, 28 
Harte, Bret 172 
Hawaii 230, 286 
Hawthorne, Nathaniel 95, 

Hayes, Rutherford B. 

(Presidential administration 

of) 146, 158, 160-161 
Hertferd, North Carolina 60-61 

Hilliard, George 114 
Hillsborough, Lord 26 
Hoboken, New Jersey 231 
Hoey, William M. 190 
Hoffman, Henry W. 128-130 
Hoffman, Nicholas 105 
Holmes, Isaac 65 
Hone, Philip as diarist 101, as 

naval officer of Customs 

Hone, Robert 105-106 
Hood, Samuel 25 
Hood, Zachariah 33 
Hoover, Herbert (Presidential 

administration of) 217 
hospitals (see marine hospitals) 
Houston, Texas 296 
Hoyt, Jesse 99, 102-104 
Hughes, John 13 
Huntington, Jedediah 80-81 
Hutchins, John 123 
Hutchinston, Thomas 16, 20-22 

Ilsey, Isaac 77 

Immigration and Naturalization 

Service (INS) see U.S. 

Immigration and 

Naturalization Service 
immigration and U.S. Customs 

Service 171-193, 228, 239, 

Indiana University 263 
Ingham, Samuel (Commissioner 

of Customs) 98, 124-125 
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 

see U.S. Internal Revenue 

Ipswich, Massachusetts 29 
Iran 289, 296 
Ireland 256 



Israel 294 
Italy 207 

Jackson, Andrew (Presidential 

administration of) 70-71, 

87-94, 95-107 
Jackson, John P. 175-177, 

Jameson, Andrew 128 
Japan 286 
Jay Commission (1877) 147-148, 

152, 154-157, 159-160 
Jay, John 147-148 
Jefferson, Thomas (Presidential 

administration of) 42-43, 46, 

48, 50, 54, 62-67, 69-86, 94, 

Jeffersonian Republican Party 

43-44, 47, 50, 54-56, 62-67, 

71, 74, 79, 95-96 
Jerome, Edward 167 
Jew Sing Yen 181 
Jewett, Daniel 140 
Jilton, Jonathan 129-130 
Johnson, Lyndon B. (Presidential 

administration of) 234 
Johnston, Samuel 61 

Keais, John L. 61 
Keais, Nathan 61 
Keais, William 61-62 
Kentucky (see also by city and 

town) 127, 131 
Key West, Florida 135, 167 
Kingston, Rhode Island 82 
Kiniry, Walter 290 
Kirk, Thomas 19 
Kitching, James 33-34 

Lake Champlain, New York 76, 
83, 203 

Lamb, John 47-48 

Laredo, Texas 247 

Laurens, Henry 26-28 

Laval, William 90 

Lawn, John C. 242 

laws governing Customs 37, 
69-71, 75, 87-89, 94, 96, 99, 
125-126, 144, 158, 163-165, 
171-175, 188, 190, 195-196, 
197-198, 199-200, 202, 212, 
220-221, 226, 229, 233, 234, 
236-237, 240-242, 252, 
255-256, 269-270, 276, 
281-282, 288 

Lechmore, Nicholas 8, 10 

Lee, Ezra 81 

Lee, Charles 54-55 

Lee, Light Horse Harry 55 

Lee, Richard Bland 55 

Leet, George 150-151 

legal redress and lawsuits 
involving Customs 27, and 
Embargo of 1807 78, 80, 82, 
and Chinese exclusion 178, 
184, 186, and Prohibition 
198-218, and drug 
enforcement 237-249, and 
pornography 253-257, 
263-272, and contraband 

Leonard, Daniel 5 

Levine, Ellen 266 

Lexington, Battle of 31 

Libya 289, 296 

Lincoln, Abraham (Presidential 
administration of) 125, 138 

Lincoln, Benjamin 39-40, 46, 
65-67, 83 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Little Pete 182 

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth 

110, 116 
Los Angeles, California 293 
Louisiana (see also by city and 

town) 75, 78, 85, 90, 122- 

123, 139, 144, 157, 221, 228 
Louisville, Kentucky 127, 131 
Loyalists (in the American 

Revolution) 5, 31 
Lynn, Barry 267 


Mac Veagh, Wayne 160 
McAdoo, William (Treasury 

Secretary) 280 
McCoy, Bill 207 
McCulloch, James 38-39, 77-78, 

McGee, Thomas 166 
McHenry, James 38 
McLane, Louis (Treasury 

Secretary) 91-93 
McPherson, William 48 


Madison, James (Presidential 
administration of) 54, 95, 185 

Maine (see also by city and 
town) 2, 63-64, 75-77, 197 

Malone, Dudley 279-280 

Malone, New York 192 

Mann, Horace 115 

Marcy, William 105 

marine hospitals 122, 145-146 

Martinez, Ray 272 

Maryland (see also Chesapeake 
and Potomac ports and by 
city and town) 33, 37, 38-39, 
47, 51-54, 63, 72-74, 77-78, 

80, 127-130, 131, 136, 
167-168, 221, 259, 262, 280 

Mason, John T 128 

Massachusetts (see also by city 
and town) 3, 5, 9, 10, 11-24, 
26, 28-30, 36-37, 39-44, 46, 
59, 62, 64, 65-67, 74, 76-77, 
84, 95, 107-117, 121-122, 
126, 135-136, 137, 144, 146, 
151, 168-169, 207-208, 221, 
230, 238, 252, 253, 257-258 

Meese, Edwin 241, 266, 273 

Mellen, William 122 

Mellon, Andrew (Treasury 
Secretary) 211, 216 

Melville, Herman 115, 126, 

Melville, Thomas 126 

Memminger, Christopher 123, 

merchants and Customs, and 
American Revolution 5, 10, 
18-21, 26-28, 33, 45, and 
Embargo of 1807 75, 81-82, 
and Civil War 133-134, 136, 
138, 140, in Gilded Age 
150-152, 156, 157, 159, and 
pornography 253-255 

Meredith, William (Treasury 
Secretary) 114-115 

Merrihew, Benjamin 208 

Merritt, Edwin A. 160-161, 165 

Meserve, George 22, 31 

Mexican immigrants 228, 239 

Mexican War 97 

Mexico 121, 135, 172, 188-189, 
201, 203, 213, 228, 239, 241, 
247-248, 281 

Miami, Florida 206, 242 

Michigan (see also by city and 
town) 203 

Middletown, Connecticut 62 



military as Customs enforcers 

14-15, 19-22, 25, 29, 48, 

73-85, 126, 130, 240-242, 

246, 280 
Minnesota 217 
Mississippi (see also by city and 

town) 123, 133-134 
Missouri Controversy of 1819 86 
Mobile, Alabama 256 
mobs 7-14, 19-20, 23-25, 28, 30, 

33-34, 75-77, 81, 173 
moiety system, abolition of 5, 

Monroe, James (Presidential 

administration of) 54, 71, 89, 

Mooney, Laurence 60 
Moore, Daniel 26-27 
Moore, E.B. 154 
Moore, H.A. 176, 184, 186 
Moore, Henry Dunning 153-155 
Moore, Lambert 32 
Mordecai, Ellen 256 
Morgan, J. P. 261 
Morris, William Gouverneur 

Murfreesboro, North Carolina 60 
Muse, Hudson 57-58 
Muse, Laurence 58 


Nantasket Beach, Massachusetts 

Nantucket, Massachusetts 24, 30, 

Nation, Carrie 197-198 
Nation, The 148-150, 157, 

159-160, 260, 264 
National Prohibition Act (see 

Volstead Act) 

Naval Officers of Customs (see 

Navigation Acts 3, 4 

nepotism (see also patronage, 
sinecures) 56-59, 61-62, 

Netherlands 269, 277 

Nevada 222 

New Bedford, Massachusetts 64 

New Bern, North Carolina 60 

Newburyport, Massachusetts 13, 
23, 41-43, 46 

New Hampshire (see also by city 
and town) 22, 31, 44-46, 62, 

New Haven, Connecticut 62, 81, 

New Jersey (see also by city and 
town) 7, 62-63, 82, 84, 
205-206, 231 

New London, Connecticut 80-81, 

New Mexico 259 

New Orleans, Louisiana 75, 78, 
85, 90, 122-123, 139, 144, 
157, 221 

Newport, Rhode Island 7-11, 24, 
82, 277 

Newton, Byron R. 282 

New York (city) 3, 6, 12, 31, 33, 
37, 47, 95-96, 99-107, 117, 
121, 126, 135-136, 138-141, 
144, 145, 147-153, 154, 
158-162, 165-166, 169, 170, 
192, 226, 229, 231, 233, 238, 
279-280, 285, 287 

New York (state) (see also by city 
and town) 3, 6, 31, 33, 37, 
47, 75-76, 82-84, 95-96, 
99-107, 117, 121, 126, 
135-136, 138-141, 144, 145, 


The U.S. Customs Service 

147-153, 154, 158-162, 
165-166, 169, 170, 190-192, 
198, 203-204, 205, 213, 226, 
229, 230, 231, 233, 238, 
260-261, 263, 265, 277, 
279-280, 282-285, 287, 290 

Niagara Falls, New York 75, 204 

Nicaragua 137 

Nicholls, John 10 

Nigeria 245 

Nixon, Richard M. (Presidential 
administration of) 236-237, 

Noah, Mordecai 115 

Nogales, Arizona 189-190 

Norfolk, Virginia 12, 54, 57-58, 
72, 124 

North Carolina (see also by city 
and town) 59-62, 64-65, 228 

North Dakota 191, 225 

North Korea 296 

Norway 277 

Nova Scotia, Canada 82 

Nullification controversy 70, 
86-94, 126 


Oakland, California 156, 167 
Oceanic Steamship Company 

Ogdensburg, New York 213 
Ohio (see also by city and town) 

122, 127, 131, 138 
Ohio River 130-131 
Oklahoma 271 
Olney, Jeremiah 79-80, 83 
O'Malley, Jack 272 
O'Sullivan, John L. 115 
Oswego, New York 75 
Otis, Joseph 83 

Pacific Mail Steamship Company 
175-179, 184 

Palm Beach, Florida 206 

Panama 137, 293 

Parker, Copeland 57 

Parker, Josiah 57 

parties, political (see by name) 

Pasquotank River, North 
Carolina 65 

Passamoquoddy, Maine 75-76, 

patronage, political (see also 
sinecures, nepotism) 38-67, 
96-97, 99-100, 104-106, 
107-109, 113-117, 137-141, 
146-149, 153-156, 158-170, 

Paxton, Charles 16 

Pembina, North Dakota 191, 225 

Pendleton Civil Service Act 143, 
148, 164-165, 168-170 

Pennsylvania (see also by city 
and town) 13, 29, 32, 47-50, 
106, 136, 144, 153-155, 
168-169, 191, 205, 221, 254, 
280, 289 

Perth Amboy, New Jersey 84 

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 13, 
29, 32, 47-50, 106, 136, 144, 
153-155, 168-169, 205, 221, 
254, 280, 289 

Phillips, Willard 136, 140-141 

Pico, Joseph 41 

Pike, William B. 221 

Pindling, Lyden 245 

Pinkham, C.H. 121 

Pinzo, Guiseppe 209 

Piscataqua, New Hampshire 22, 

Plattsburgh, New York 190-191 



Plummer, Sewall 168 
Plymouth, Massachusetts 30 
Plymouth, North Carolina 60 
Poinsett, Joel 88-92 
politics and Customs (see 

patronage, corruption, mobs, 

removals from office, 

sinecures, civil service reform, 

nepotism, moiety system, and 

political parties by name) 
Polk, James K. (Presidential 

administration of) 104-105, 

Pool, Adrian 213 
Pope, Edward 64, 83 
pornography and Customs 

Portland, Maine 75-78 
Portland, South Carolina 139 
Portsmouth, New Hampshire 

44-46, 62, 79 
Port Townsend, Washington 190 
Potomac River ports 57-59, 

Presbyterian Mission of San 

Francisco 184-185, 187 
Price, William 101 
Pringle, James R. 88-94 
Proctor, Samuel 24 
Progressive movement 191 
Prohibition (see also alcohol, 

Volstead Act) 195-218 
Prohibition Party 197 
Providence, Rhode Island 5, 

24-25, 79-80, 214, 277 
Puget Sound, Washington 


Quincy, Josiah 38 

Rafferty, Peter 166 
Randolph, Peter 12 
Rantoul, Robert 112 
Reagan, Nancy 249 
Reagan, Ronald (Presidential 

administration of) 246, 

248-250, 268, 291 
Redfield, William 295 
Reeve, Richard 25 
Reiter, Stephen 290 
removals from office 41-47, 

62-65, 104-105, 113-117, 

128, 140, 148-149, 150, 152, 

156, 165, 166-167, 168-169 
Republican Party 140, 147-170 
Rescue Home of San Francisco 

(see Presbyterian Mission of 

San Francisco) 
revenue, Customs' production of 

36, 100-103, 148, 303 (see 

also chart entitled "Receipts 

of the National Government" 

among illustrations) 
revenue cutters (see cutters) 
Reynolds, Frank M. 208 
Rhode Island (see also by city 

and town) 5, 7-11, 24-25, 29, 

38, 79-80, 82, 214, 277 
Richmond, Virginia 58 
riots (see mobs) 

Robinson, John 7-11, 17, 22, 24 
Roosevelt, Franklin D. 

(Presidential administration 

of) 286, 295 
Roosevelt, Theodore (as Civil 

Service Commissioner) 

Roupell, George 27 
Rouses Point, New York 230 
Rowe, James 23 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Rowland, James 58 
Rowland, Zachariah 58 
Rush, Benjamin 196 
Russell, George 31 
Russia 277, 293, 296 

Sag Harbor, New York 82, 84 

St. Mary's, Georgia 75, 77-78 

Saiville, James 25 

Salem, Massachusetts 6, 23, 30, 
95, 107-117, 121-122, 126, 
136, 140-141, 146, 168, 221 

San Francisco, California 137, 
144, 155-156, 166-167, 171- 
193, 208, 222, 224, 230, 253 

Sanger, Margaret 258 

Santa Ana, California 239 

Sargent, Nathan (Commissioner 
of Customs) 125 

Sassafras, Maryland 33 

Savannah, Georgia 12, 124, 279 

Sawyer, Edmund 64-65 

Sawyer, Enoch 64-65 

Sawyer, Frederick 64-65 

Sawyer, M.E. 64-65 

Scarf, J. Thomas 192 

Scarlet Letter, The 109-116 

Scott, David 57 

Scott, Richard M. 57 

Scranton, Pennsylvania 191 

Seattle, Washington 172 

Seven Years' War 3, 4 

Shattuck, Ebenezer 40 

Shays' Rebellion 40 

Sheldon, Daniel 76 

Sherman, John (Treasury 
Secretary) 147, 157, 161 

Sherman, William T. 131 

Simms, Charles 54-55 

Simonds, Jonas 49 

Simons, James 65-67 
sinecures (see also patronage, 

nepotism) 55, 60, 111, 151, 

154-155, 159 
Skinner, Joshua Jr. 61 
Skinner, Steven 61 
Skinner, William 61 
slavery (see also Blacks, Chinese) 

Black 85-86, 89, and Chinese 

women 177, 181-189 
Smithfield, Virginia 57 
smuggling 3, 5-8, 17-18, 23-26, 

29, 31-34, 73-86, 126, 

128-131, 134-137, 172-185, 

188-192, 199-218, 223-249, 

252-274, 278-279, 281-283, 

Smyth, Richard 294 
Society of the Cincinnati 43, 48, 

Sons of Liberty 12, 15, 18, 20, 

23, 25, 30 
Sorrentino, Vittorio 230 
South Africa 296 
South America 39, 109, 238, 

243, 246 
South Carolina (see also by city 

and town) 13, 26, 65-67, 70, 

86-94, 124-133, 139, 221 
Spain 277, 285 
Spear, Joseph 41 
special agents (see enforcement) 
Squam, Massachusetts 29 
Stamp Act 1, 3, 9-14, 17-22 
Steele, John 84 
Stopes, Marie 258 
Storer, Ebenezer 40 
Sturgis, Josiah 90-91 
substance control (drugs) 121, 

191, 219-250 
Sugar Act 3, 4, 6, 9-14 
Sunbury, Georgia 33-34 



Surveyors of Customs (see 

Swartout, Samuel 99-103 
Sweden 271, 293 
Switzerland 290, 293 
Syria 289 

Tappahannock, Virginia 57-58 
Taunton, Massachusetts 8, 11 
Taylor, Zachary (Presidential 

administration of) 105, 107 
Temple, John 6, 8-10, 16, 21-22, 

Tennessee 131 
Texas (see also by city and town) 

135, 198, 201, 213, 237, 241, 

247, 289, 296 
Thailand 269, 272 
Thannaree, Manit 272 
Ticknor, George 114 
Tompkins, Daniel 75 
Townshend Acts 1, 14, 16, 

22-26, 28 
Treasury Department (see U.S. 

Treasury Department, and 

Treasury Secretaries by name) 
Treasury Enforcement 

Communications System 

(TECS) 301 
Tredwell, Samuel 61 
Tucker, Joseph 63-64 
Tuscumbia, Alabama 123 
Tyler, John (Presidential 

administration of) 104 


United Nations 302 

U.S. Bureau of Immigration 175 

US. Coast Guard 205-206, 
211-214, 216, 232, 239-241 

U.S. Constitution (see also 
enforcement) 35-36, 46, 47, 
67, 85, and nullification 
controversy 86-88, 94, and 
pornography 260, 264-266, 
and Prohibition 198, 202, 
210, 217 

U.S. Constitutional Convention, 
1787 35 

U.S. Immigration and 

Naturalization Service (INS) 
237-239, 242 

U.S. Internal Revenue Service 
(IRS) 210, 231-232, 242 

U.S. Public Health Service 145, 

U.S. Treasury Department (see 
also Treasury Secretaries by 
name) 35, 38-40, 42, 44, 46, 
52-54, 60, 62-67, 69-86, 
91-93, 97-99, 101-103, 106, 
112, 114-115, 120, 122-131, 
134-137, 141, 145, 155-156, 
157, 160-161, 176, 186, 207, 
211-212, 216, 221, 223, 262, 
280, 286 

Upham, Charles 116-117 

Upham, Dorothy 264 

Van Buren, Martin 90, 100, 103 
Vanderbilt, Mrs. William K. 229 
Van Ness, Cornelius 105 
Vermont (see also by city and 

town) 44, 75-76, 191-192, 

203, 225, 252 
Vicksburg, Mississippi 123 
Vietnam 296 


The U.S. Customs Service 

Virginia (see also Chesapeake, 
Potomac, and by city and 
town) 7, 11-12, 13, 25-26, 
37, 54-59, 63, 72, 124, 
127-130, 139 

Virginia City, Nevada 222 

Volstead Act (National 
Prohibition Act) 202, 
209-210, 213, 231 

von Raab, William 

(Commissioner of Customs) 
248-249, 268, 271, 273-274, 
290, 292, 295 


Waldo, Francis 24 
Walker, Robert J. (Treasury 

Secretary) 112, 120, 221 
Walpole, Horace 4 
War of 1812 85 
Ward, Henry 10 
Warren, R.I. 38 

Washington (state) 172, 190-191 
Washington, D.C. 76, 78, 79, 

83-84, 87, 91-94, 95-96, 102, 

108, 123, 125, 131, 138, 141, 

150, 155, 186, 226, 248, 277 
Washington, George (Presidential 

administration of) 39, 44, 48, 

51, 55-59, 64 
Washington, Martha 59 
Webster, Daniel 114 
Welch, Hezekiah 41 
Weld, Benjamin 83 
West Indies 4, 136, 203, 205-206, 

215, 216, 242, 245-246, 300 
Whig Party 104-105, 107, 


Whipple, Joseph 44-46, 79 
Whiskey Rebellion (1794) 48 
White, Leonard 97 
White, Richard Grant 115 
Wickersham, George W. 217 
Wigglesworth, Edward 43 
Williams, Elie 53-54 
Williams, Otho Holland 51-54 
Wilmington, North Carolina 60 
Wilson, Woodrow (Presidential 

administration of) 229, 276, 

Winker, Tom 272 
Winton, North Carolina 60 
Wise, John 181-182 
women, Chinese 177, 181-189, 

and Prohibition 197-198, 

204, and pornography 256, 

258, 263, 266 
Women's Christian Temperance 

Union 197 
Woodbury, J.C. 151-152 
Woo Deok 191 
Woolsey, John M. 261 
Woolsey, Melancthon 83 
Wray, George 58 
Wray, Jacob 58 
Wright, David A. 202 
writs of assistance 15 

Yeaton, Hopley 45-46 
York, Maine 63-64 
Yung Ham 189 

Zuckerman, Nathan 287